Today, I thought I would spend some time introducing you to the beautiful Irish National Anthem, “A Soldier’s Song.” I’ve heard it many times, both in Irish and in English, and it never fails to give me chills. The first time I heard it was at my daughter’s first Irish dance competition when one of the other students sang both it and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which struck me as particularly ironic — both war songs written as the countries fought for independence from the same one-time foe.
It was, as are most national anthems in my experience, born in the midst of battle; so the words are striking and sad. It is, to be blunt, quite an anti-British song which makes sense as it was originally written in 1907 and then used as the war anthem during the Irish Civil War in 1916 to 1917, then officially adopted in 1926. For this reason, people in Northern Ireland prefer to use alternative songs.
You can purchase the song in either Irish or English on iTunes but if you’re hesitant to make a commitment, you can just Google “A Soldier’s Song” or “Irish National Anthem” and several of the Irish sites have it for sale or just for a free listen. There are also some versions on YouTube. We have heard it both really fast or at a slower pace and at my house we prefer the more sedate, more solemn version. There is no way, when you read the words, to think that this song should be anything but a very solemn pledge to die for freedom and I just don’t enjoy it sung like a happy ditty. However, everyone has their own taste. I am only suggesting you choose carefully before you purchase, to make sure it’s a version that you enjoy. Sean Dunphy, whose music I normally love, does a fast version much too peppy for my liking but iTunes has a beautiful slow version from Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums (say that three times fast!) in English.
I was going to post the Irish, but have had a hard time finding a version that I can cut and paste, so I just included a link where both are side by side and you can study them if have a great desire to make your head explode trying to figure out how to pronounce the words!
A Soldier’s Song
Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave;
tonight we man the Bearna Baoghal (1)
In Erin’s cause.
come woe or weal;
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.
We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering, rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us;
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the morning’s light
here in the silence of the night
We’ll sing a soldier’s song
In valley green or towering crag
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered ‘neath the same old flag
That’s proudly floating o’er us,
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march the foe to face,
We’ll sing a soldier’s song
Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!
The Long watched day is breaking;
The serried ranks of Innisfail (2)
Shall set the tyrant quaking.
Our camp fires now are burning low;
See in the east a silvery glow,
Out yonder waits the saxon foe,
So sing a soldier’s song.
- According to my sources this means a hole in the line or a dangerous gap.
- A poetic name for Ireland