Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry on this song:
Foggy Dew (III), TheDESCRIPTION: "As down the glen one Easter morn" the singer is passed by a silent army who raise the green flag over Dublin. The Irishmen who died fighting for others had better died fighting for Ireland. "But the bravest fell ... who died at Eastertide"
AUTHOR: Canon Charles O'Neill (1919) (source: "The Foggy Dew" in _Wars & Conflict 1916 Easter Rising Rebel Songs_ by Franke Harte on the BBC site)
EARLIEST DATE: 1959 (IRClancyMakem03)
KEYWORDS: battle rebellion Easter Ireland patriotic derivative
Apr 24, 1916 (Easter Monday) - beginning of the Easter Rebellion
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (2 citations):
ADDITIONAL: Frank Harte _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, pp. 70-71, "The Foggy Dew" (1 text, 1 tune)
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "The Foggy Dew" (on IRClancyMakem03)
Liam Clancy, "The Foggy Dew" (on IRLClancy01)
cf. "The Foggy Dew" (II) (tune)
cf. "The Boys from County Cork" (subject)
NOTES: By the time of World War I, most of the people of Ireland were basically loyal to the British crown; they wanted Home Rule, but as part of the British Empire (see, e.g., "Home Rule for Ireland"). Very many of them volunteered for the British army, and very many of them died in the trenches of Flanders.
A relative handful of the Irish wanted complete independence; naturally none of them volunteered. A handful of that handful, led by Padraig Pearse, planned rebellion (see the notes, e.g., to "The Boys from County Cork").
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a small force (probably between a thousand and 1500 men) attacked Dublin. The center of the rebellion was the General Post Office, where Pearse read the proclamation of independence (which, since he read it in Irish, was mostly ignored by the Anglophone population). Over the building rose two flags: One, the harp on a green background, the traditional Irish flag; the other was the new tricolor whose orange and green bands stood ironically for a united Ireland.
The whole thing was a fiasco. The rebels surrendered April 29. At first, the people cursed and spat at them -- after all, they had ruined Dublin and killed about 250 civilians. Had the British left bad enough alone, imprisoning the rebels but no more, all might have been well. But they started court-martialling the commanders on the spot; three leaders including Pearce were executed May 3, and twelve more in the next nine days. Gradually public opinion began to change: the fool rebels became martyrs for Ireland, and when the next rising came, after the war, Britain could not brush it aside.
It says something about Irish politics that this song is allowed to be a slur on the memory of the Irishmen who fought for Britain in World War I. Unlike the Dublin rebels, the loyalist Irish killed no civilians -- certainly no Irish civilians! Their casualty rates during the war were higher (the Easter Rebellion saw 64 rebels killed and 12 executed, meaning the casualties were somewhere between 4% and 8%; roughly 11% of the soldiers in the British Army died during World Was I), and the wounds more frightful. And the loyalists spent years in trenches and mud, and died of gas and shrapnel and hanging on barbed wire rather than clean deaths by bullet. The British loyalists did not intrigue with the authoritarian regime of Wilhelm II. This is clearly the song of a man who had not been a soldier and had never been to Flanders.
Which just shows how hard it is to be objective. As an American, I can't see that it would have mattered whether Ireland was independent or the Irish still part of Great Britain, as long as they enjoyed the same rights as British citizens. (Which, admittedly, they never had.) They would probably have been better off economically, too.
The Irish however *do* see a difference. But Harte writes, "At this present time one hears the revisionists of Irish history express doubts as to whether the Easter Rising was really necessary or whether the men who fought and died might not have done so for the highest motives[;] this song tolerates no ambivalence but gives the full praise due to those men who gave their lives for our freedom." This of course does not change the fact that the song is unfair -- but it shows how important the Rising and related events are to Ireland.
(To give Harte his due, in the notes to the next song in his book, the un-traditional "When Margaret Was Eleven," he says, "There was a certain sadness about the soldiers of the 1914-1918 war[;] they never quite got the glory they felt they deserved for their exploits on behalf of the crown. Their glory was overshadowed by the action of the men who stayed at home and fought for the freedom of their own country.")
The two men mentioned in the song are, of course, Padraig Pearse, the organizer of the rebellion, and Eamon de Valera, a lesser leader who survived because he was an American citizen; he would eventually become the primary leader of the hard-line anti-English faction, helping lead Ireland to its Civil War but also guiding its destiny for many decades thereafter. For the stories of both men, see again the notes to "The Boys from County Cork."
Some versions also mention Cathal Brugha, who was one of the most extreme nationalists. Since the song was written in 1919, Canon O'Neill could hardly know that Brugha would eventually die in rebellion against Ireland's freely elected government -- but he did; see the notes to "The Death of Brugh."
According to Robert Gogan, 130 Great Irish Ballads (third edition, Music Ireland, 2004), p. 46, Canon O'Neill wrote this after attending the meeting of the first Irish Dail (parliament) and noting how many members were in British custody. Though it should be noted that this was a Sinn Fein assembly, with Unionist MPs instead going to London. It was a difficult time. - RBW
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