Song for Ireland was a major success on the Irish folk circuit when it first appeared in the early 1980s.
It was recorded by top performers like The Dubliners, and Mary Black with De Dannan.
It’s a celebration of Ireland and has come to be seen as a kind of anthem for the country, its culture and its people. It therefore comes as a surprise to many people to discover that it was written by a couple from Staffordshire in England.
Phil and June Colclough were prominent figures in the English folk scene. They set up the first folk club in Stoke-on-Trent in England in 1960 before moving to London where they worked with the legendary Ewan MacColl.
They later returned to Stoke and produced a folk music programme for the local radio station.
Phil Colclough was English but had Irish family connections in Co Wexford. The couple were holidaying in Ireland when they got the idea for the song. Their trip took in the Dingle Peninsula and the Galway Bay area; both places are mentioned in the lyrics.
The first three verses focus on the three things that many people outside of Ireland most like about the country: its natural beauty, the friendliness of its people and richness of its traditional music.
The fourth verse introduces a sense of sadness and regret relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The opening verse has a poetic, majestic feel with its talk of silver winged falcons who “know the call of freedom in their breasts”. There’s a reference to Black Head where “twisted rocks run down to the sea”. Black Head is in Co Clare and overlooks Galway Bay towards Connemara. You can also look out to sea to the Aran Islands.
The second verse celebrates the easy warmth of the people as the Colcloughs enjoy “talking all the day, with true friends who try to make you stay”.