Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Foggy Dew and the 1916 Irish Easter Uprising

In 1919, Canon Charles O'Neill wrote the Foggy Dew, one of the great Irish ballads, in response to the execution of the Irish leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising by the British Government and military authorities. 

The rebel song,  The Foggy Dew was O'Neill's response to the ferocity and savagery of the British response to the Easter Uprising.

In chronicling the Easter Rising of 1916, O'Neill encouraged Irishmen to fight for Ireland and not for Britain in WW1. Hence, the immortal line:
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar.
The Foggy Few has been recorded by many iconic Irish musicians including the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftans, The Dubliners, Wolf Tones and Shane McGowan. (3 versions are below).

On Easter Monday 1916, in Dublin, 1500 armed Irish revolutionaries seized a number of strategic buildings and locations across the city, including the Court House and the iconic Dublin Post Office, with the goal of immobilizing the British forces in Dublin and inspiring a revolutionary uprising throughout Ireland.

The uprising was  mounted by Irish Republicans at the height of WW1 with the aim of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish rebellion.  All this occured at the time that the British empire was engaged in the slaughter on the Western Front across France and Belgium.

The British response to the Easter uprisings was unsurprisingly savage and ferocious. They shelled and attacked the insurgents with artillery and massive firepower. In their book titled The Easter Uprising, Foy and Barton write:

The fighting in Dublin at Easter 1916 was multifaceted, ranging from rifle fire into and out of houses and large buildings, to ambushes and pitched battles. Grenades and bombs were thrown from roofs while snipers operated from windows, barricades, church spires and clock towers and were, in turn, hunted down by individual enemy marksmen or units. Sometimes combat was at close quarters, almost hand to hand.
The Post Office siege was perhaps the most iconic. The insurgents held out against British artillery and direct fire for days.

The rebellion was suppressed within a week and its leaders were arrested and deported to Britain where they were either executed or imprisoned. Many of those involved became leaders in the ongoing struggle against British rule that eventually lead to Irish independence, including legendary figures in Irish history such as Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, James Connolly (executed) and Roger Casement (executed). 

Despite its apparent failure at the time the Easter uprising was a definitive event that largely united the counties of Southern Ireland against their British masters and ultimately forced the British  to the bargaining table. In particular, the savagery of the British was a critical factor in turning many Irish people to the Republican cause.

This live version of the Foggy Dew is by the Clancy Bros and Tommy Makem, and includes evocative poetry read by Liam Clancy and documentary photos.

This version is by the Spanish group Banshee

This is Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftan's version of the Foggy Dew.

The Foggy Dew  
As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No fife did hum nor battle drum did sound it's dread tatoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

'Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their names we will keep where the fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew

But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
And the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

Ah, back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I'd kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, When you fell in the fog

1 comment:

Ciaran Lynch said...

For obvious reasons The Rising is still a big thing here. In an historical context what pleases me is the way writers are look to re-examine what happened. There's an almost constant revising of the rising so that we get to see it for the abject shambles of a military exercise that it was, complete with all the woeful, ill-prepared, hoped- for outcomes any bunch of mischievous school-kids could have come up with, to the eventual outcome manufactured by the literary and song writing brigade who romanticised it into being. It's more than than those two things, of course, but the fact the discussion is very much alive after almost a hundred years is what's important.