Unionists demand withdrawal of funding from fleadh over rebel song controversy

Opinion: ‘Go On Home’ was originally recorded by the Wolfe Tones

‘Understandably the DUP is ever alert for incidents which can be construed as evidence of bad faith by the Shinners’. Photograph: Getty Images

‘Understandably the DUP is ever alert for incidents which can be construed as evidence of bad faith by the Shinners’. Photograph: Getty Images


Unionist politicians have demanded that funding be withdrawn from the Ardoyne Fleadh. The climax of the event last Sunday featured a rousing – at least that was the intention – performance of “Go On Home British Soldiers” by the Druids, a self-described “rebel band” from Kildare.

On the basis of the YouTube recording, the Druids are a band for people with cloth ears. But for the moment, that’s not the point. The unionist objection had to do not with aesthetics but with a contention that the song and the words with which it was introduced amounted to criminal “hate speech”. Plus, they saw a chance to embarrass Sinn Féin. “It’s about time that they got all their orange comrades together, it’s about time that they loaded up the bus and it’s about time that they all f****d off back to England where they came from,” announced the singer before launching into “Go on home British soldiers, go on home/Have you got no f*****g homes of your own. . .F**k your union jack/we want our country back.” (The band says these words have been taken out of context. But it’s hard to see what context would make them inoffensive.)

Orange comrades

Of course, hardly any of the forbears of the orange comrades hailed from England, although it might be unreasonable to expect Kildare balladeers (apart from Christy Moore) to be aware of this obscure fact.

“Go On Home” was originally recorded by the Wolfe Tones, whose rendering is to the Druids’ as the New York Symphony Orchestra is to Justin Bieber. (Have a listen. You’ll regret it.) A more significant difference is that the Tones were belting out the song in a period when the armed struggle for “Brits Out” was in full swing with, in one version of history, the backing of a majority of Northern nationalists. It is difficult enough to honour those who fought and died at the urging of leaders who held that any dilution of the demand for immediate British withdrawal was little short of national apostasy but who now feel constrained to insist that the struggle hadn’t been for a united Ireland – “not until the last British soldier leaves these shores” and so forth – but for equality before the law.

To be reminded by the fleadh controversy of what was once among the movement’s theme songs is awkward, all the more so when Druid-style performances are certain to be seized on, particularly by the DUP, as evidence that republicans haven’t changed in any significant way and are less than fully committed to the Belfast Agreement – which the DUP strove to thwart until reality compelled them, too, to shift their ground.

Understandably, then, the DUP is ever alert for incidents which can be construed as evidence of bad faith by the Shinners: if Sinn Féin does not intervene to put a stop to proclamations of discarded notions, they must be less than wholehearted in their commitment to constitutionalism.

The DUP knows that this isn’t true, but also knows that many of those whose support they need at the polls, as well as members of the party itself, including some in leadership positions, can’t handle this truth. It is a difficulty for Sinn Féin that it feels it necessary in view of its twists and turns to control the nationalist narrative of the Troubles. “Dissidents” have to be deprived of any suggestion of legitimacy. All who challenge the favoured version must be represented as mindless militarists motivated entirely by a desire to do Adams and his associates down. Hence the relentless battering of Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney for – this is their so-called offence – facilitating an account of the armed struggle which contradicts the “official” line. “Dissidents” comes the howl of denunciation. The line is that they are opponents of the peace process; giving a voice to malcontents who hanker after a resumption of violence, most of them with minds scattered by drink and drugs and dealing not very well with their demons.

Thus, McIntyre and Moloney are labelled as “touts”. Their project with Boston College was a “get Gerry” enterprise from the outset.

The pair have to be discredited at all costs so that a fanciful version of history can as far as possible be protected from challenge.

IRA activists

This is not to say that Moloney and McIntyre’s interviewees all told it like it was. Probably not. But their account of their experience as IRA activists is as valid as those who offer a contrary account.

Herein lies the problem for mainstream republicans in relation to Ardoyne. Stifling the roars of the hundreds, maybe thousands, who cheered the tuneless Druids might be do-able. But it would be risky business for relations with their “own” community too, especially with the DUP hovering like hawks to swoop on any who stumble walking the narrow line.

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