A new anthem for a new Ireland?


Sir, – As Fintan O’Toole says, distaste for the tune that we use as our national anthem is not a recent phenomenon (Opinion & Analysis, June 5th). In 1947 the Irish song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn wrote of it: “I first heard it sung at a Wexford Feis about 1912. It is also a good many years – about twenty – since I earned a certain unpopularity by protesting against its adoption as National Anthem, and in criticizing it made use of such uncomplimentary terms as ‘American Civil War sentiments’ and ‘pom-pom rhythm’. I could never understand its popularity. The tune is not Irish; it sounds to me something between a Sousa march and a German regimental song, while the words are in no sense of the word apt. (When did Irish soldiers since Sarsfield’s day, sit around blazing fires waiting impatiently for the morrow’s fight?)”.

It is often defended on the grounds that other nations’ anthems are just as anachronistic. I know many French people, for instance, who hate La Marseillaise. But if the words of that song are blood-thirsty (and they are), at least it has a good tune, and one, moreover, that has a French flavour. Paddy Heeney’s air for The Soldier’s Song displays no Irish musical features at all.

Happily, there is a ready-made alternative, and one that would be acceptable to unionists as well as nationalists. This is the air that is used both for the Irish language song Rosc Catha na Mumhan (“The Battle Cry of Munster”), and for the loyalist song The Boyne Water. Both songs and tune are indisputably Irish, and are all at least three times as old as The Soldier’s Song.

The tune is incomparably better and, like some other nations’ anthems, there need not necessarily be a set of words attached to it. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – I won’t argue with Fintan O’Toole when it comes to the virtues of our national anthem. I’ve never been particularly fond of it. But does it really make sense to denounce it as an “outmoded expression of Irishness”?

Your columnist believes that Irish identity has changed: “‘What it means to be Irish’ has been radically altered by the referendums on articles 2 and 3, on marriage equality and on abortion. We have an open, fluid, multilayered identity.”

All very well, if you like that kind of thing, but what symbols does one adopt to express an “open, fluid, multilayered identity”? Something like the Millennium Spire, perhaps – which avoids exclusivity by meaning nothing at all? Isn’t there a stage at which Irishness has been pluralised out of existence, or at least, into triviality?

I think we are better off sticking to the Soldier’s Song, for all its faults. I shudder to think what we might get in its place. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 11.