seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Peadar Kearney, Composer & Irish Republican

peadar-kearneyPeadar Kearney, Irish republican and composer of numerous rebel songs, dies in Inchicore, Dublin on November 24, 1942. In 1907 he writes the lyrics to “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann“), now the Irish national anthem. He is the uncle of Irish writers Brendan Behan, Brian Behan, and Dominic Behan.

Kearney was born on December 12, 1883 at 68 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin, above one of the two grocer’s shops owned by his father, John Kearney, originally from Funshog, Collon, County Louth. His mother, Katie (née McGuinness), is from Rathmaiden, Slane, County Meath. He is educated at the Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and St. Joseph’s Secondary C.B.S. in Fairview. He hears Willie Rooney give nationalist lectures on history in the Mechanics’ Institute. For a short time he attends Belvedere College. Following the death of his father, he is left to support his mother and five younger siblings. He has various menial jobs for three years before being apprenticed to a house painter.

In 1901, the death of Willie Rooney prompts Kearney to join the Willie Rooney Branch of the Gaelic League. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1903. He teaches night classes in Irish and numbers Seán O’Casey among his pupils. He finds work with the National Theatre Society and in 1904 is one of the first to inspect the derelict building that becomes the Abbey Theatre. He assists with props and performs occasional walk-on parts at the Abbey until 1916.

Kearney is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and takes part in the Howth and Kilcoole gun runnings in 1914. In the Easter Rising of 1916 he fights at Jacob’s biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh, abandoning an Abbey Theatre tour in England to take part in the Rising. He escapes before the garrison is taken into custody.

Kearney is also active in the Irish War of Independence. On November 25, 1920 he is captured at his home in Summerhill, Dublin and is interned first in Collinstown Camp in Dublin and later in Ballykinler Camp in County Down.

A personal friend of Michael Collins, Kearney at first takes the Free State side in the Irish Civil War but loses faith in the Free State after Collins’s death. He takes no further part in politics, returning to his original trade of house painting.

Kearney’s songs are highly popular with the Irish Volunteers (which later becomes the Irish Republican Army) in the 1913–1922 period. Most popular is “The Soldier’s Song.” He pens the original English lyrics in 1907 and his friend and musical collaborator Patrick Heeney composes the music. The lyrics are published in 1912 and the music in 1916. After 1916 it replaces “God Save Ireland” as the anthem of Irish nationalists. The Irish Free State is established in 1922 and formally adopts the anthem in 1926.

Other well-known songs by Kearney include “Down by the Glenside,” “The Tri-coloured Ribbon,” “Down by the Liffey Side,” “Knockcroghery” (about the village of Knockcroghery) and “Erin Go Bragh” (Erin Go Bragh is the text on the Irish national flag before the adoption of the tricolour).

Peadar Kearney dies in relative poverty in Inchicore on November 24, 1942. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

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.