The third verse of Song for Ireland acknowledges Ireland’s rich musical heritage with the writers of the song, Phil and June Colclough “drinking all the day, in old pubs where fiddlers like to play”.
In the hands of lesser writers, these themes could get over-sentimental but the Colcloughs manage to stay well clear of any hint of excess, with their lyrics flitting quickly from talk of “telling jokes and news” to watching Galway salmon or fishing for Atlantic bass.
The fourth and final verse introduces the first hint of sadness and regret. The conflict in Northern Ireland was at its height in the early 1980s when the song was written. Song for Ireland doesn’t mention this specifically but the fourth verse opens with the thought of dreaming of “a land where no man has to fight”.
The next two lines are particularly striking:
“Walking in your dawn,
I saw you crying in the morning light”
The “you” here refers to Ireland itself. For a fleeting moment the country is personified and seen to be crying for what is happening to the people of Ireland.
The song doesn’t linger on the thought. In keeping with the style of the other verses, we’re quickly on to a new image of falcons twisting and turning “in your air blue sky”. This reference to the majesty of the falcons brings us full circle back to the opening lines of the song with its mention of tall towers and falcons building nests.
It might seem strange at first sight that a song that celebrates Ireland so much would be written by people from outside the country, but perhaps it takes outsiders to appreciate what those on the inside take for granted and so tend to overlook.
A song written by someone from outside may also be thought to have more credibility than one by someone celebrating their own country.
Song for Ireland has been recorded by major artists from all over the world. As well as Luke Kelly and Mary Black, there are versions by a wide range of artists including Joan Baez, The Fureys, Englebert Humperdinck, Dick Gaughan and Ralph McTell.