seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

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amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.

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