Friday, March 16, 2012

Sinéad O'Connor and the Chieftains, "The Foggy Dew"

As down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I,
There armed lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by.
No pipe did hum, no battle drum
Did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus bells o'er the Liffey swells
Rang out in the foggy dew.

Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war.
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through;
While Brittania's sons with their long-range guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew.

The bravest fell, and the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Easter-tide
In the springing of the year.
While the world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the foggy dew.
The lyrics are said to be "traditional," hence the author is unknown, though this was written within the last century. The Easter Rising happened in 1916; Suvla and Sud el Bar (Sedd el Bahr) were both disastrous World War I amphibious landings on the shores of Turkey, which was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. At Sedd-el-Bahr, a large contingent of Irish troops took heavy casualties; Suvla is remembered in the song, "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", which tells how Australian soldiers, many of Irish origin or descent, were "butchered like lambs at the slaughter." Here it is by Liam Clancy:

My only visit to Ireland was in the summer of 1988. A friend advised me that there were two things I absolutely must see in Dublin: the Book of Kells in the library of Trinity College, and Kilmainham Jail (or "Gaol"), where the surviving particpants in the 1916 Easter Rising were held and executed.
While walking through the corridors of Kilmainham, I was stunned by this graffito (image courtesy of EAD Living), the words of which are: "Beware the risen people, that have harried and held, ye that have bullied and bribed."
Afterwards, I went to the courtyard and saw the cross marking the spot where the wounded James Connolly was tied to a chair and shot. There were fourteen participants in the Easter Rising executed in the Kilmainham courtyard during May of 1916.

St, Patrick's day is, and should be, a joyous time, even for one like me whose Irish heritage is thin (Update: not so!) and, so far as I know, all on the Protestant side (but remember, Wolfe Tone was a Protestant). Still, it should also be a time to remember what led William Butler Yeats to conclude his poem Easter, 1916 with the words: "A terrible beauty is born."

1 comment:

  1. Terry Cagle7:46 PM

    Being I'm of Irish heritage, I sincerely appreciated the history lesson you provided as well as the poem. I loved the references and the image of the Irish being mighty warriors, even in the face of catastrophy. Makes me proud to be Irish, although my last name is of German roots.