On May 28, 1779, poet and songwriter Thomas Moore (1779–1852) was born in Dublin. As a child, he enjoyed music and performing arts, and at one point wanted to be an actor.
His mother wanted him to become a lawyer, so he studied Law at Trinity College, and there became a friend of Robert Emmet (Irish nationalist and rebel leader). Moore, however, was not involved with Emmet’s United Irishmen.
He didn’t pursue a career in Law, but became a writer. Many of his songs had patriotic Irish themes, inspired by his friendship with Robert Emmet and others. Many of his university friends had taken part (and were killed) in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
Lyrics set to traditional Irish tunes
He put his poems and lyrics to traditional Irish tunes. The Moreen, (an old Irish air) is the melody Moore chose for The Minstrel Boy.
The Minstrel Boy became popular throughout Ireland and 1779 was adopted by many Irish Brigades in the British Army.
Later it became popular with regiments made up largely of Irish volunteers who fought in the American Civil War. Its popularity grew even more during and after World War I.
Adopted by American brigades
Associations that had large numbers of Irish-Americans such as the New York, Boston and Chicago police and fire departments, took up The Minstrel Boy as a kind of brigade anthem.
It is often played on bagpipes at the funerals of members of army, police and fire brigades who have died or been killed in service.
Originally, The Minstrel Boy referred to the Irish Rebellion against the British in 1798. The lyrics are vague, which has led to it being borrowed for many other conflicts.