As Leader of the WolfeTones for over 38 years I introduced “A Nation Once Again” on stage for over thirty of those years. It was at the suggestion of the late Inspector Pearse Meagher of the NY Police Dept. who was a descendent of Irish and American Patriot Thomas Frances Meagher that we first performed the ballad in New York. Pearse was a founding member of the NYPD Pipes and Drums.
I first recorded The Republican Anthem on the Album “Let the People Sing” in 1972. Pearse Meagher was by no means the only one to suggest the song as I had learned it at school and knew the words from early boyhood but he was for me the one who pointed out its great value as a song of Irish Patriotism. I feel a great sense of pride that it should have been voted the Worlds most popular Song in a BBC poll last year. An inspirational song as was its author Poet Patriot Thomas Osbourne Davis. (See “Songs and Ballads of 1798” and “Songster of American Civil War” available at my website.) Born in Mallow Co.Cork on the 14th 0f Oct 1814 and he died of Scarlet fever in Dublin on the 15th of Sept 1845. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery Dublin. He was patriotic and thoughtful from an early age. He had undying commitment to and belief in the cause of the Irish people. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin. The “Nation” newspaper which he named and was co.-founder with John Blake Dillon,Charles Gavan Duffy was the most influential publication in Ireland the mid 19th century. His energy concentrated in his literary contributions that reflected all aspects of Irish life and history made “The Nation” the most read newspaper ever in Ireland. Its pages had a widespread hidden audience as its contents; commentaries and poetry were read to tens of thousands of Irelands poor who were unable to read the English Language. From the earliest written Irish Literature the love of learning has been part of every Irish community’s traditions, its importance defended because English laws were designed to keep the Irish people in ignorance. Irish Families were forced to teach their children in Hedge School’s and ditches of Ireland or send them to Europe for schooling. Education was central to every aspect of Thomas Davis’s writing and has always been at the heart of Irish Republican thought in Ireland. It is both in part a legacy of the educational crusade of Early Christian Ireland and the philosophy of independent thinking of a first generation of Irish writers in the English language the most notable being Swift, Molyneaux, Carey, and Berkley. The literature and writing of these men were to fan the flames of the American Revolution and defend its promise and to inspire the subsequent imitation by the Irish independence movement calumulating with its declaration of Irish independence in 1782. The repression that followed in the1780 and 90’s was the English response to Irelands fledgling Independent power and its aspirations to be a model American Republic in Europe. The forced Union of 1801 was to copper fasten the appalling English Class system of Colonialism sectarianism bigotry and privilege. Thomas Davis like many Irish visionaries Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken, Mathew Carey, Padraig Pearse all preached self-reliance and seen education as the corner stone of the creation of a society for common good. The Young Irelander's of which Thomas Davis was a founder member were a response to the refusal of the London Government to repeal the forced Union with England of 1801 and in its ranks were to be found the finest and most capable men of their generation. The debate between the philosophy and actions of Dan O’Connell and The Young Irelander’s has been meaningless over the years the sad fact is that the London.government ignored both organizations pleas. It is prophetic that Davis was aware that the years of 1841-1844 were to have an impact that would resonate to this very day he could never have foreseen the Great Hunger. However he would have been like most Irish Patriot’s aware that the Irish peasantry lived on the margins of destitution the roadside was only a breath away for most tenants. The Repealers were defeated by the threat of mass violence by the English Army and Navy on a crowd of over a million people at Clontarf Dublin on Oct 1843. Their failed aspirations lay in the misery of the Great Hunger and in the coffin ships of the Atlantic and their hopes for repeal bequeathed to Fenian refugees of Irish America. They were to suffer further humiliation and despair when witnessing the effects of the calamity and seeing the supporters of their mass action lie in corpses on the roadsides of Ireland over the next five years. Most of the Young Irelanders were to suffer the same national humiliation sentenced to be Hung Drawn and quartered. Many like Davis died young or were deported from Ireland in the late forties. The failed “Young Ireland” rebellion of 1848 seen the deportation of its leader William Smith O’Brien to Tasmania. Taken together with the extermination of over two million people victims of Trevelyen’s policies (for which the English Crown rewarded him with a knighthood) these events were to keep Ireland under the control of England for three more generations. England can claim a short- term victory over both the repealers and Young Ireland movements but with a terrible cost to the Irish people and one which the country or people never recovered. However England’s victory could never be final, despite having executed. Murdered , starved, deported, and exiled those who opposed its rule. They could not kill the ballad or words of its patriots for it needed only the lips of those who sing and the ears of those who would listen. Through the literature song and inspiration of Thomas Davis and the patriots of Young Ireland listed below, the spirit of Irish liberty was rekindled and reinvigorated in America to be proclaimed by Padraig Pearse and signed by Tom Clarke on behalf of the millions of dead victims of English government on the 24th of April 1916. For readers and listeners I would remind you that some the literature and song of Young Irelander's Richard Dalton Williams Bartholomew Dowling, John Savage, and Thomas Davis are also included in my Sons of Erin CD.
As a tribute to the generation of the pre Gorta Mor Ireland I have included some of the most popular ballads of that generation. Two ballads by poet painter and novelist Samuel Lover (1797-1868) “Rory O’Moore” and “The Bould Solger Boy” like Davis was a Protestant he loved Ireland and its traditions and had a simplicity that was a mark of his work. Lover did not write political ballads but his ballads were patriotic in the sense that he reflected the Ireland that Thomas Davis wanted to inspire and few of their class understood. Both Davis and Lover’s had a deep love for their countrymen’s musical and poetic traditions are their tastes are reflected in their work,
Lover used melodies that learned as a young boy in Wicklow where he spent his early youth. He was not a groveler to the crown as some have suggested and unlike many artists of his time he had a great understanding of the Catholic underclass and was much closer to their tastes and humor than Tom Moore. He was a performer of great wit and entertainment and it is said that when he toured the USA in 1846 and when he performed in Washington that his concert audience looked like the adjourned Senate and Congress. He died in Jersey in the Channel Islands and is buried in Kensal Green London. He is fittingly memorialized in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin with a tablet that reads “In memory of Samuel Lover, poet painter novelist and composer who in the exercise of a genius as distinguished as in its versatility as in its power by his pen as his pencil illustrated so happily the characteristics of the peasantry of his country that his name will ever be honorably identified with Ireland. If the ballads of Samuel Lover were highly popular both in Ireland and the USA the same can be said of Stephen Foster (see "Clear the way" where his ballads and history of the Foster family and their Irish origins are to be seen) “When this Dreadful War is Ended” and “ I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” are included here they reflect Fosters mastery of the simple melody.
Thomas Davis had a high regard for the work and Labour of William Bunting. Wolfe Tone his family and The McCracken's spent their last nights in Belfast in his company of the celebrated musician and collector. Two of his finest marching tunes and both were great favorites with Gilmore's bands of the 1850’s in the USA they are “The Young May Moon” and “The Jolly Ploughboy”. The Irish musical tradition owes a great deal to Irish –America they it expressed freely and without fear of ridicule. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was responsible for popularizing Irish Music on a national scale in America and he can claim credit for inspiring the creation of the unique American marching band.
“Let Erin Remember” and “The Harp that Once” were two of the most popular of songs attributed to Tom Moore he was not the composer but the collector of two great gems of Irish song. All of these compositions were of the age of Thomas Davis and are dedicated to his legacy
“On the One Road ” written by Frank O’Donavan for a performance in the Theater Royal Dublin in 1942 it was revived by the inspirational singing of the people in the nationalist ghetto of Ardoyne Belfast in 1971, When I performed there at the Shamrock Club and it has been a treasured part of my repertoire right up to this day. ”The Men behind the Wire” written by Paddy McGuigan and first recorded by the Wolfe Tones in 1973 is the reminder of the dark days of interment without trail introduced in the Six Counties on Aug 1971 and “Some Say the Devil is Dead” For fun and dance.
“The Ballad of Michael Hogan” “Bloody Sunday 1920” which remembers The English Army attack on Croke Park during a football game in Nov.1920 killing thirteen civilians forever known as Bloody Sunday and its most celebrated hero Michael Hogan .The ballads of the street are “The Bold Robert Emmett” probably the most loved and venerated of all Irish Patriotic families were the Emmett's (see the history and book just published at my Internet site to commemorate the bi-centenary of his death). Emmett's public execution reveals the brutality and violence that lies at the heart of the English Monarchy and more than any other action this public spectacle insured that the English institutions were despised by generations of Irishmen and women. “The Sumpter Rifles” Composed by myself taken from forthcoming new CD “Confederate Irish” a tribute to the forgotten Irish who fought and lost with the South in the American Civil War. I invited my only son Pearse Warfield to sing ”The Tri-Colored Ribbon” written by Peader Kearney writer of the Soldiers Song our National Anthem. I have been fortunate to have a son a supportive as Pearse and we have performed at Sharpsburg Heritage Festival over the last three years and have been some of the most treasured moments I have had on stage. “Kevin Barry” written by the Glasgow Irish, author’s name unknown and sung by Peter Wrafter who with his band Legacy has been performing throughout Ireland. He has wonderful talent and ability and I will be always grateful to him for getting me back to the recording studio ten years ago. “The Streets of New York” written by Liam Reilly and “Boulavogue” Father Murphy” written by PJ McCall and are sung by Sonny Kavanagh who has performed with The Sons of Erin over the last year he is a gifted natural ballad singer with a great future before him. His guitar playing is featured on “The Fields of Athenry” The “Rising of the Moon” written by Leo Keegan Casey who wrote and published political ballads for which he was imprisoned. His incarceration lead to bad health and he died at 27 .His funeral was said to been attended by over 40,000 people many of whom walked from his native County Westmeath. The song is one of the finest of all Irish ballads of the 19th century.