Wearing of the Green is a song describing the British attempt to destroy Ireland’s sense of nationalism. The Irish saw attempts to ban the wearing of the green as being completely futile.
That’s why the singer asserts that he will continue to wear green in his caibin (pronounced cawbeen) until such time as the British can show that their law can prevent the grass from growing.
Obviously, they will never be able to do that and by the same token they will never be able to suppress Irish nationalism and the wearing of the green.
Traditional song reworked by Don Boucicault
The Wearing of the Green is largely a traditional song dating from the late 18th century.
There are many variations but the one most widely used today was written, or more likely adapted, by the Irish actor and playwright Don Boucicault.
He used his reworked version in a play he produced in Dublin in 1864 called Arragh na Pogue, which means the Wicklow Wedding. The play is still performed today and remains popular.
Boucicault added idea of emigration to the US
Two of the verses in Boucicault’s version refer to emigrating to the US, a land of liberty.
These verses seem to contradict the spirit of the rest of the song because instead of showing defiance against the British, they seem to accept there’s nothing to be done except to leave Ireland and start life abroad.
This may have reflected Boucicault’s views rather than those of the Irish people in general. Indeed, Boucicault did emigrate to America, although it was the scandal of leaving his wife for an actress that spurred him to leave rather than any oppression from the British.
The Irish have continued wearing green
Despite the best efforts of the British, they never could and never did prevent Irish people from expressing their identity by wearing green.
If anything, they made the wearing of the green more popular than ever. Even today, it is still closely associated with Ireland, as can be seen by the way millions of people all across don green hats, t shirts and emblems every year to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.