Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Soldier's Song?

When I was 17 I went on a multi-school exchange trip to Europe. It was the first time I met Catholics my own age. And you know what? They were good craic. Thank Goodness because I was one of only 4 Protestants, and it would have been a right bore otherwise. That experience, more than anything, laid the foundation for my conviction that - scrape away the labels and we've all got the same stuff in the tin.

However, our final evening had an uncomfortable moment when, at the end of a concert given for our hosts, it came time for the national anthem. Not the one I'd been brought up with. One, offically, of a different jurisdiction (and not the country bearing the cost of the trip either). The exchange organiser told me, "Well, John, if you and the other three want to get up and sing 'God Save the Queen', that's OK". Fine words, but I felt the underlying resentment against Britain and opted to watch from the wings while 30 of my co-visitors sang a song I'd never heard in a language I couldn't understand. Pity, because I actually wouldn't have minded joining in.

It's taken me until now to get round to looking at the words of √Čire's national anthem, "The Soldier's Song" (English translation). Here's a sample:

In valley green, on towering crag,
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered 'neath that same old flag
That's proudly floating o'er us.
We're children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march, the foe to face,
We'll chant a soldier's song.

Why is it so violent? So full of hatred, so 17th century? OK, the Gaelic, Viking, Norman and English invasions of Ireland were outside intrusions that begged resistance, but the Irish have to stop seeing themselves as a fighting race, downtrodden by overlords. It may have been like that in the past, but those days are now over. The Irish - north and south - are a race of friendly people, welcoming, accommodating of each other at a personal level, creative and alive. It's unhealthy to prize yourself as "a fighting race", and it's time to stop fuelling this "victim-type" self-image by enshrining it in the national anthem. I may not live in √Čire, but as a northern Irishman I'd like to be able to "sign up" to its anthem.

For the record, there's a lot of old codswallop in British patriotic songs too. Britannia certainly doesn't rule the waves (that's George W. these days in case you hadn't noticed) and no, those feet in ancient time most certainly did not walk on England's mountains green (what was William Blake smoking?).

But back on topic for today's Big Thing: the Republic of Ireland should adopt an inclusive national anthem praising its superb cultural heritage, not how violent it used to be.


At 6:58 p.m., Blogger United Irelander said...

I agree John. It's bit farcical anyway when we're supposed to be so proud of our neutrality!

At 8:35 p.m., Anonymous localfool said...

Yeah, your right but imagine a politician trying to get votes with: "My first measure will be to get rid of the national anthem."- Hardly malkes for a run-away election campain, does it?

To be honest I don't think most Irish people care or know the details of the song. The important thing is it's thier's.

In fact if the actual wording had been
#Post man pat
Post man Pat
and his black n' white cat..."
I still think the irish as a whole would see it as a patriotic duty to defend it.

That said, I feel its only a matter of time before 'We are the Champions' or 'We will rock you' is stolen by some country for a nation anthem. :)

At 6:06 p.m., Blogger Chris Gaskin said...

What about "A Nation once again"

Wrote by a Protestant Republican

Any takers?

At 6:28 p.m., Anonymous John said...

A Nation once again
Arguably the only time Ireland was united was under the English, pre-partition. There was a high king at various points, but never a nation state, more a collection of Gaelic and Pictish fiefdoms. Danny Boy gets my vote - brings a tear to eyes of all traditions. BU.

At 6:59 p.m., Blogger Chris Gaskin said...

I just find Danny boy depressing at least a Nation once again is uplifting.

We have been sullen and depressed for too long on this island, and opressed for long enough as well (only shit-stirring ;))

At 9:21 p.m., Anonymous John said...

Aye well, Chris, we can't change history, but I think those days are over now, and a good thing too. BU.

At 6:45 a.m., Anonymous Be Thou My Vision said...

Great topic! Thank you for sharing. I also read some of your posts and I enjoyed a lot.
Looking for more great topics soon. God Bless!


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