29 December, 2010

The legend of "The Fields of Athenry":

"With most sport's songs, only some of the fans are singing it - but with 'The Fields of Athenry' - the whole crowd sings it and it's something really very special and very emotional" - says Munster & Ireland Rugby's Donncha O'Callaghan (pictured right)

"I was in Cork one time and I was told - 'That Athenry song is a marvellous rugby song.' And I said: 'It's not a rugby song, it's a song about the fucking Famine like.'" - Folk singer Paddy Reilly

"In the Irish psyche, the most powerful sense is the sense of loss from emigration. Every family in this country has been touched by emigration, all down the generations. Millions left this
country (Ireland) never to be seen again and 'Athenry' sums that up. All the ghosts appear when 'Athenry' is sung." - RTÉ Sports Journalist Tom McGurk

Ghosts of the Famine:

"The Fields of Athenry"

"Fields of Athenry" composer Pete St. John (left) tells the story of the song: "I set my character Michael for 'The Fields of Athenry' in a real situation that was happening in Ireland. This man was suffering all the terrible things up in the area of Athenry. Then he heard of a store of grain stored in Cork. He went to Cork to try to steal some of the grain, he was apprehended and sent to Australia as a convict.

"You don't need a special voice or an operatic voice to sing the song - it's a song of the people" - says Irish singer Charlie McGettigan

"Charles Trevelyan (an agent of the Queen, sent over to Ireland during the Famine period): Trevelyan had a firm belief that this was a divinely ordained Famine; that Ireland's rural agriculture was unsustainable and that you needed a devastating episode like this in order to result in the mass clearance of all these small holdings and small farmsteads that relied on the potato crop. This song triggers a memory of 800 years of British Imperialism and it becomes a very tribal thing." - Irish Historian Diarmaid Ferriter

"Sport developped from the British Empire and was spread particularly to nations which the British colonised. The only place that Britain's colonies could possibly prove their equality to the British, was on the sport's field. For example, Ireland's success at the 1990 World Cup brought this country to a new psychological level." -

By 1994,
"Athenry" was THE Anthem for Irish sport's fans. In New York's Giants Stadium (pictured below), when Ireland beat Italy at the World Cup, there were tens of thousands of third and fourth generation Irish-Americans who were singing that song in recognition of their ancestors who had been forced to leave Irish shores during the Famine, never to return again.

Ireland 1-0 Italy:
FIFA World Cup
USA 1994

The song was adopted by fans of Glasgow Celtic Football Club, as it told the story of Irish emigrants into Glasgow and Celtic was a club founded by an Irish Catholic priest for the Catholic poor of Glasgow in the years following the Famine.
In 1999, the song was "banned" in Scotland, due to it's supposed Republican connotations. This is a view refuted by both the Celtic chairman (Fergus McCann) at the time and the song's composer: "It's a story from the Famine. If people want to hang other things on 'the Fields of Athenry' that's their business. But I don't like that."-says the composer: Pete St. John

In recent years, "The Fields of Athenry" has been adopted by Munster Rugby. Former Munster & Ireland legend Keith Wood (pictured left) tells the story of the aftermath of the 2000 Heineken Cup Final, which Munster had lost 9-8: "Within 30 seconds it was the worst and best moment of my career. Declan Kidney (Munster's manager that day) was trying to say a few things. Suddenly it seemed as if the whole crowd started to sing 'The Fields of Athenry' - it was a real launchpad for the song. It's the worst place for us in our profession (just after losing a big match) and that song really spurred us on for the future. In the long run it was probably better to lose that day because it gave us the impetus to keep coming back, time after time after time. This song is about rejection and loss and basically it's saying: 'Let's see what you're about.....'"

Of course, the first match played by Ireland against England at Croke Park in 2007 (pictured right) evoked memories of the blood shed in 1920 on the same pitch - at the hands of British soldiers. "The Fields of Athenry" evoked all sorts of emotions that day in 2007, it was very powerful. That was the Irish anthem for the day (see video clip below), the whole tension and hatred between Ireland & England dissipated that day.

"Rugby is a hugely physical contact sport. You can't walk up stairs the day after a game. The physical hits are huge. There's a direct relationship between physical hit and adrenaline. Unless your body is full of adrenaline, you can't take hits like that. The most effective way of creating adrenaline is emotion. And the most effective way of creating emotion is song. So literally, 'The Fields of Athenry' is pumping that team full of adrenaline" - McGurk (pictured right)

"The Fields of Athenry":

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Micheal they are taking you away
For you stole Trevelyn's corn
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing
we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters Mary when you're free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity.


By a lonely harbour wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she'll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.


fields near athenry

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