Funeral of Pete St John hears he is now part of what was Dublin in the rare ould times

Songwriter of The Fields of Athenry wrote standards that will endure forever

All songwriters aspire to write one song which will become a standard, but Pete St John wrote three of them, Phil Coulter told his funeral service

Coulter, who has written more than a few standards of his own, suggested The Fields of Athenry, Dublin in the Rare Ould Times and The Ferryman are now part of the Great Irish Songbook and will endure forever.

“Some songs never connect with audiences, some songs make the charts and then fade away and are never heard again. Then there are the songs that endure and that is the yardstick,” he said.

“If a song is still being sung 50 years after it was written, that’s a big song. There isn’t a songwriter out there who would not kill to write one big song - a classic, a standard or as we call them, a pension song.”


Mr St John, who was born Peter Mooney, in 1932 died aged 89 in Dublin on March 12th. His funeral was delayed to allow his family travel back from the United States.

Mr Coulter explained that Pete St John had written Dublin in the Rare Old Times when he returned from North America in the 1970s to see developers had "made a city of my town".

He wrote The Ferryman about the Workers’ Ferry which make its last crossing of the River Liffey in October 1984.

In The Fields of Athenry, his most famous song, Pete St John had distilled the horrors of the Great Famine into just three verses, Mr Coulter said.

As the coffin left the Church of the Holy Child in Whitehall, a lone flautist played the song which its author compared to a "magic carpet" given its ubiquity wherever Irish people are gathered together.

Following behind the coffin was the man who made The Fields of Athenry a hit before it became a standard.

Paddy Reilly’s 1982 recording spent 72 weeks in the Irish charts and remains the definitive version of the song.

Mr St John's funeral was attended by President Michael D Higgins and by the Cllr Dermot Lacey deputising for the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Oscar winning songwriter Glen Hansard, Eurovision winner Paul Harrington and his brother Richard and the local TD Sean Haughey were also in attendance.

Mr St John's wife Susan predeceased him. The chief mourners were his sons Kieron and Brian Mooney. Pete St John was the eldest of six children and grew up in Inchicore.

He was educated at Synge Street CBS and trained as a electrican in Canada before returning to Ireland in the 1970s.

His son Kieron Mooney, a professional golfer in the United States, said his father was an excellent sportsman in his younger years. He was a great swimmer and runner and played GAA. In his adult life, he became a promising golfer in his own right and father and son cherished their time together playing golf.

It was only on his return to Ireland that Pete Mooney became Pete St John and his father began to write songs.

His son concluded with the final lines of the song of the song which immortalised his father’s relationship with native city Dublin.

Fare thee well sweet Anna Liffey, I can no longer stay,

And watch the new glass cages, that spring up along the quay,

My mind’s too full of memories, to old to hear new chimes,

I’m a part of what was Dublin, in the Rare Oul Times.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times