In 1798 a Dublin Protestant, Theobald Wolfe Tone, founded the Society of United Irishmen, its immediate aim being Parliamentary Reform. Tone said this was necessary: "… to subvert the tyranny of our execrable government; to break the connection with England; to assert the independence of my country and to substitute the common name of IRISHMAN in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter."
FATHER MURPHY and a Protestant land-owner called Bagenal Harvey led the Wexford rising together, one of the more successful campaigns of the 1798 rebellion which, however, ended in defeat and slaughter by the combined English and German soldiers. THE WEARING OF THE GREEN dates from this period when hundreds of Irishmen were publicly hanged and their bodies flung into mass graves. Such is the long memory of the Celt that some of the most popular songs of today are MEN OF THE WEST and KELLY, THE BOY FROM KILLANNE, both concerning Irishmen of the "'98."
ROBERT EMMET attempted a rising in 1803 but he was betrayed; the whole affair lasted a couple of hours and ended in utter chaos. Although the Great Famine of 1845-7 reduced Ireland's population by millions, driving the more adventurous over-seas and killing many of those who stayed, still the heroes appeared; John Mitchell who was transported for, " … labouring both day and night to free my native land."; Gavan Duffy who recreated the NATION newspaper; O'Donovan Rossa, Doheny, O'Mahoney and many others. These were BOLD FENIAN MEN, named after Finn McColl, the legendary hero.
A NATION ONCE AGAIN written by Thomas Davies around 1843, shouts with positive hope that, "… Ireland once a province, be a Nation once again!" His aim has not yet been achieved, for as Dominic Behan says, "six counties are under John Bull's Monarchy!". FORGET THE OLD ORANGE AND GREEN asks for an end to the religious discrimination which is tearing Ireland's northern counties into shreds; religious discrimination introduced via English politics. When asked what an Anglo-lrishman was, Brendan Behan replied, "A Protestant with a horse!"
In modern times, ballads are still being written in the same stirring, traditional style like Seán SOUTH for example, but we must not forget the tremendous Irish sense of humour, the nonsense songs like THE IRISH ROVER and the satirical, cheeky, devil-may-care sarcasm of THE RECRUITIN' SERGEANT and JOHNSON'S MOTOR CAR!
Jim McLean, 1969