Jack the Sailor,
I don't think Tommy Makem intended "Four Green Fields" to be a war song.
I think he wants to see a united Ireland and comments on the blood that accompanies the "troubles". In this, I think he is more like Tommy Sands.
The problem with the "troubles" is that it seems to be a religious war (which most wars are).
Tommy Sands is a spokesperson for peace and what I know of Tommy Makem, he is as well.
One of the songs that really makes me feel uncomfortable is "If You Don't Like Your Uncle Sammy" from the 1920's.
Also, any song with the N word in it. I won't sing that. Even if if it powerful.
The song about wife-beating in "The Wee Cooper of Fife" and the part about I would beat my "ain sheep skin" bothers me greatly.
This is a good thread because it points out that not all folk songs have a base that's humanitarian. Those songs that denegrate humanity are best left to the dust bin. or as Woody used to say "I hate a song that makes a man feel small....."
"The Unreconstructed Rebel" has to be taken in context as there are many people who still think in these primitive ways. it does give an insight into the mindset of many bitter confederate types, however. It's an uncomfortable song for me nonetheless.
I won't sing the words to Stephen Foster's "Oh Susannah" either. I think the paradox with him although he might have been racist is that he wanted to write more art songs like "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair" rather than the "Ethiopian" songs he wrote for the marketplace.
Many Minstrel Show songs are uncomfortable to sing as are many so-called "coon" songs from the late 1800's through Tin Pan Alley later. As to the latter, it's unfortunate because many of these later songs contain great melodies such as "I've Got A Bimbo Down In the Bamboo Isle" or "Rufus Rastus ----Brown, whatcha' gonna' do when the rent comes 'round". (This great tune was later adapted for Teresa Brewer's rendition of "Music, Music, Music". Also the original verses for "Puttin' On The Ritz" (another great tune) which was "cleaned up" for Fred Astaire's rendition made fun of "high life" in Harlem. Can't sing that either.
But this might be a thread creep because the subject is "powerful" songs. I would imagine that this means that there has to be some dramatic content to be included in this category.
"1913 Massacre" by Woody Guthrie always makes me terribly sad and the subject matter uncomfortable. Yet it's an important song as is "Deportees".
I am uncomfortable with "Sam Hall" although it's a pretty powerful song.