Rarely in its 144-year history has the roof of Dublin’s venerable 3Olympia theatre come so close to lifting. The audience at the sold-out Wolfe Tones concert there on Ash Wednesday night, made up mainly of young people, belt out the chorus of Brian Warfield’s Celtic Symphony – “Ooh ah, up the ’Ra, say ooh ah up the ’Ra” – with all the unrestrained energy of their years.
“Graffiti on the walls that says, ‘We’re magic, we’re magic’ / Graffiti on the wall, graffiti on the wall. It says / Ooh ah, up the ’Ra, say ooh ah up the ’Ra / Ooh ah, up the ’Ra, say ooh ah up the ’Ra...”
Mainly young men, some in their teens, some wearing Celtic or Ireland football shirts, they could be grandchildren to the four men on stage, those septuagenarian Pied Pipers. “I can’t believe it, but we’re celebrating our 60th anniversary next year, 60 years together. We try to bring the story of Ireland across the world, which we have done,” Warfield tells them.
The 76-year-old wrote Celtic Symphony in 1987 to mark the 100th anniversary of Glasgow Celtic football club. Its chant was taken up at the time by Irish fans as “Ooh ah, Paul McGrath”, to honour the popular international player.
Last October a social-media post of the Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team singing the chant went viral. It followed their historic World Cup qualifying win in Scotland. The Football Association of Ireland was fined €20,000 by Uefa for “violation of the basic rules of decent conduct”. The FAI and the women’s team apologised to all those offended.
The latter did not include Warfield or his audience. After the first rendition of Celtic Symphony – it is performed twice – and as the audience segue into “Ole, olé, olé...” he says, “Never, ever, ever tell the Irish people that they can’t sing a song,” which is followed by loud cheers.
“And that fella on Sky News should get a history lesson.” This reference, which is followed by more cheers, is to the Sky Sports News presenter Rob Wotton, who suggested the women’s soccer team might need education on relevant issues.
Warfield continues: “We love the girls and wish them well in Australia, and I know they’re going to do great. They shouldn’t have been thrown under the bus the way they were.” Cheers. “They are the heroes of the nation.” More cheers. The audience cheers too when he says the Wolfe Tones are “proud to sing about our rebel past”.
Most of the songs the audience also sing, including The Teddy Bear’s Head: “Here’s up the rebels / Get back our teddy’s head / Her face and tail are all her own / But her brains are foreign led ... We’re facing towards America / With our arse to England.”
And “We’re not British / We’re not Saxon, we’re not English / We’re Irish and proud we are to be / So f**k your Union Jack / We want our country back / We want to see old Ireland free once more.”
Then Warfield tells them about “the great holocaust that we had in 1847″ as the people starved while “hundreds and thousands of ships left Ireland laden down with food for the British Empire”.
He tells them too how the 1916 Easter Rising was a “fight against the biggest and greatest empire in the world. Only 1,500 people men, women and boys. And we should remember them with great pride, as we do and we’ve done for almost 60 years.” More cheers.
“We’re very happy, happy people in Ireland. Have a couple of pints and a singsong,” he says as audience members go to and from bar and bathroom, disturbing everyone as if they were at an Ireland rugby match.
“We love you all,” he tells them. “Honest to God, love you to bits, and thank you for supporting the Wolfe Tones, because the Wolfe Tones have suffered a lot of – what would you say? – blacklisting, all over the place, because we supported the people of the six counties at the time.”
They have been “going up to Belfast since 1964”, he says. “We’re proud to support the people of our six counties. They suffered awful, and if we had it all over again we’d do it again.” More cheers.
Then it is into the final rendition of Celtic Symphony. “Ooh ah, up the ’Ra, say ooh ah up the ’Ra / Ooh ah, up the ’Ra, say ooh ah up the ’Ra.”
It ends shortly after 11pm. The two generations have had a great night, with a version of Irish history passed to the younger one.