I first met the Wolfe Tones a dozen or so years ago when RTE was doing a television series called 'Ballad Session'. It was the morning of balladry then; and there was a great rip-roaring energy about those boys, so infectious that one could not listen to it without being swept along.
There was something else: a strong sense of rootedness, so palpable that whether they were singing Davis's "Nation Once Again" or some more recently-made ballad, one was in no doubt that these were Irish songs sung by Irishmen — in every sense of the word, Irish and proud of it!
I am happy to note that the Wolfe Tones have now come to the height of their strength. The present album has some great songs: the elegant "Sí Beag, Sí Mór" — the two fairy mounds so beloved of the blind harper O'Carolan; a most attractive new song, written by Brian Warfield about Private James Daly of the Connaught Rangers, shot for his loyalty to Ireland in India; and "Bold Robert Emmet" whose bicentenary we celebrate this year.
There are also other great songs of the past, given new life in this album by the Wolfe Tones exciting arrangements: "General Munroe", a song about the '98 Rising up North; "The West's Awake"; the Irish drinking song "Tá na Lá" — all of them songs that people have sung in thisland for generations. No song lasts that long without good reason.
Recent years saw much new thinking in the cultural life of Ireland, some of it questioning the very basis of what Irishness means. The Wolfe Tones, I am happy to see, were never in any doubt about that. For this reason, they join in my mind with the company of other great Irishmen of the past — Brendan Behan, Francis MacManus, Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna, the man who wrote about the yellow bittern who died of thirst. Irish indeed and proud of it; not solemn nor sour about it; no, but not apologetic about it either!
Right now, we can do with a good stiff injection of this kind of national self-confidence. We're a small people perched on a rock away out in the Atlantic, with mighty noises all around us. People in situations like that need something to keep their heart up. That's how they can face the world. The Wolfe Tones face it with verve and style!
Liam Ó Murchú