Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Foggy Dew"--The Wolfe Tones--Song of the Easter Rising, Dublin, 1916.


I'm not Irish, but I love this song. It's based on a sad but inevitable chapter in history---the beginning of the modern Irish Free State and later Republic when nationalists under the banner of the United Irish Volunteers and other groups known as "Fenians" to the British  marched on Dublin on the day after Easter, April 24, 1916, to the General Post Office at the center of the city. Other points were attacked as well but the GPO assault was the last to fall. What  these few men were willing to risk here was the catalyst for a nation. It was a nation that would see a continuing war as many of the leaders (16 in all) were executed after surrendering.


A terrible urban guerrilla war was launched in 1917 by Michael Collins  and other IRA leaders. It was countered by British forces, including over 8,000 "Black and Tans" (recruited from World War I ex-soldiers who couldn't find work in England) who came in 1919-20 to shore up the Royal Irish Constabulary and created some of the worst attacks on civilians since Oliver Cromwell's invasion in the 1650s.


In 1921, the Irish Free State was born out of a negotiated settlement by Collins and other Irish leaders with Lloyd George's government. Conflict over a demand of continued loyalty to the British King sparked a Civil War in Ireland with nationalists--a war that still scars Ireland today.  There was great bloodshed over the  full republic goals of Eamon DeVelera against the Free State advocates.  Michael "Big Fella" Collins was assassinated for signing the Free State treaty.

 By the 1930's DeValera was in power and the old IRA elements he once favored were outlawed. Ireland became an independent republic in the 1950's. But it all started here, and this song to me celebrates the terrible price men and women pay for wanting to govern themselves, a right mostly taken for granted in this world.

The opening clip from this video is from the Ken Loach film "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" from 2007.  I would recommend that film to anyone who wants to see a searing drama about those times.  




Facts about the uprising... from   

"The GPO on Sackville St was occupied at noon on Easter Monday 24 April and the Proclamation of Independence read out from the front of the building by Padraig Pearse.

"The GPO was occupied by a mixture of Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army.

"Edward Daly commanding the 1st Battalion occupied The Four Courts, Mendicity Institute, Jameson’s Distillery, and North King St.

"Thomas McDonagh commanding the 2nd Battalion occupied Jacob’s Factory.

"Eamonn De Valera commanding the 3rd Battalion occupied Boland’s Mills, Landsdowne Road, Westland Row Station, Mount Street Bridge, and Northumberland Road.

"Eamonn Ceannt commanding the 4th Battalion occupied South Dublin Union, Marrowbone Lane, Roe’s Distillery, Ardee St Bakery, and Cork St.

Eamonn Ceannt’s second-in-command was Cathal Brugha.

"Michael Mallin commanding a unit of the Irish Citizen Army occupied St Stephen’s Green, Royal College of Surgeons.

"Michael Mallin’s second-in-command was Countess Markievicz.

"Séan Connolly, commanding a unit of the Irish Citizen Army, occupied City Hall

"The first casualty of the Rising was a 45-year-old unarmed policeman from Co Limerick, Constable James O’Brien.

"He was standing at the entrance to Dublin Castle shortly before noon on Easter Monday when a volunteer cycled up to the gate and shot him dead.

"Lt A.D. Chalmers, 14th Royal Fusiliers was in the GPO conducting business when the rebels entered and he became a prisoner of war.

"On 24 April, after an attack on Beggar's Bush Barracks, 2,500 reinforcements arrived from The Curragh.

"They retook City Hall and Séan Connolly was killed in the attack.

"He was the first rebel casualty.

"On 25 April Brigadier-General WH Lowe assumed command of British forces in Dublin. Reinforcements arrived from Belfast and Templemore and the rebels in St Stephens Green were forced back to the Royal College of Surgeons.

"Martial Law was also declared on 25 April.

"On 26 April HMY Helga began shelling rebel positions. The Mendicity Institute was recaptured.

"On 27 April British Forces regained control of Sackville Street and began shelling the GPO and The Four Courts.

"On 28 April General John Maxwell assumed command of all British Forces. The burning GPO was abandoned by rebel forces. The rebels retreated to Moore Street.

"On 29 April the insurgent leaders in Moore Street decided to negotiate a surrender.

"The emissary sent to make preliminary arrangements was Nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell, a member of Cumann na mBan.

"At 3.30pm Pearse surrendered to Brigadier-General Lowe at the corner of Sackville Street and Great Britain Street (now O'Connell Street and Parnell Street).

"At 3.45 pm the instrument of surrender was signed at British HQ at Parkgate.

"Due to several contradictory orders, volunteers in Cork and Tyrone dispersed on Sunday 23 May.

"There were small scale engagements in Wexford, Galway, and Meath.

"The last incident of the Easter Rising took place on 1 May with the gun battle at Thomas Kent's house in Co. Cork.

Easter Rising318 insurgents and civilians were killed and 2,217 wounded.

116 British soldiers were killed, 368 wounded, and 9 were reported missing.

13 Royal Irish Constabulary were killed and 22 wounded.

3 Dublin Metropolitan Police were killed and 7 wounded.

3,430 men and 79 women were arrested.

170 men and 1 woman were tried by Court Martial.

16 men were executed.

1836 men and 5 women were interned.

1,272 were subsequently released after further investigation.

All remaining internees were released on 18 June, 1917.


  1. I have sympathies with countries that want to be free of British dominance and the English monarchy. Good song.

  2. the Irish such happy go lucky people even with all the turmoil they've gone through...great song Doug

  3. Yes. War is a terrible thing, but governments who value independence should be prepared to grant it to other nations...better by the ballot than the bullet of course.

  4. You're right Mike. Irish history is a grim saga at so many times.

  5. So beautiful, so poignant ... brought tears to my eyes.

    The books I'm currently reading covered the Jacobite uprising of 1745 where Bonnie Prince Charlie wished to claim to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. This ended tragically at Culloden, although he survived, fleeing Scotland.

    Strange how many good songs come out of wars. Tom Lehrer, my favorite satirist, commented on this and even wrote one for "World War III" since he did not figure there would be any survivors. I'll post it on my page if you would like to hear it.

  6. Yes it is very moving... there are a lot of sad songs about battles lost and the Irish have had their share. Sinead O'Conner also did a
    beautiful version of this song with the Chieftains.!

    I like historical novels. I'm curious what the title is of the Jacobite novel about Prince Charlie.

    Tom Lehrer is one of my favorite satirists, one of the first I heard. I'll have a look. Thanks Christy.

  7. I have always loved historical novels -- to me it's the most painless way for me to learn history. One summer as a teenager I made a project of reading all of the historical novels of Thomas Costain.

    Anyway, the book I was speaking of is part of a series by Diana Gabaldon. The first one is Outlander and the second Dragonfly in Amber. They seem well researched and really made the time period live for me.

    My tags aren't always working, so I'm including a couple of links. (a favorite quote from the book) (a fanmade video of what a movie might be like)

  8. I've read some of Costain's non-fiction books about English history, like "The Three Edwards" and "The Magnificent Century" about the early Plantagenet monarchs and their kingdoms. He's a very engaging writer.

  9. Thanks Fred.

    Home Rule for Ireland might have been achieved for most of Ireland in the 1880's, and with a lot less bloodshed.
    But Prime Minister Gladstone's government never got a bill through Parliament in London. There was too much nationalist oppositon, too much fear that more freedom for Ireland meant the break up of the British Empire. The Tories and the Unionists wouldn't accept any bill for Home Rule in the decades before the Great War. In the end, Ireland was lost anyway. There's a lesson here I think in political intransigence--both in British and later Irish politics.

  10. Living in Boston, I should have learned more about Ireland's history. All I know is their internal conflicts and with the Brits were just a nightmare. A small country with heroic history and outstanding poetry and striking nature!

  11. Well said Tinh. Seeing pictures of Ireland and its hills and glens and rocky shores, I can readily understand how it has inspired such great poetry, prose and passion.