‘Tis a great day for the Irish! And while I’ll not be lifting a glass in honor of the patron Saint (owing to a Lenten promise I didn’t think through very thoroughly), I shall be wearing the green, chowing down on corned beef (yes, a uniquely American custom) and singing many a song inspired by the Emerald Isle, her joys and tribulations. The following, in no particular order, is a list of 10 songs I rate as indispensable for any celebration.
The Wild Colonial Boy, The Wolfe Tones. Ever stop to think about how poor a role model ol’ Robin Hood was? He’s become a patina to lay over any psychotic from Jesse James to Al Capone. Still this is a rousing ballad and our bad boy meets a just end.
The Wild Rover, The Clancy Brothers & Robbie O’Connell. Ah, the spendthrift drunk who takes the pledge. A stock character in Irish lore, it makes an entertaining, table-pounding sing-along.
Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go? The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. As Paddy’s Day comes just on the threshold of spring, this sweet invitation to explore the flowering countryside is a harbinger of great things to come. Now, I’ve been wanting to get an Irish lass in the heather since I saw Janet Munro in Darby O”Gill and the Little People. Hasn’t happened yet, but hope springs eternal.
Carrickfergus, Paddy Reilly. A sweet lament over lost youth and love.
The Fields of Athenry, Paddy Reilly. Plaintive ballad of courage and love tragically lost. Sums up the justifiable outrage the Irish felt towards their British overlords.
Mull of Kintyre, Paul McCartney. For me, this one is forever associated with the freedom of the city I felt in 1977, enjoying total access to the Irish pubs in NYC on Paddy’s day, despite being 14 months underage.
Song for Ireland, The Dubliners. I traveled to Ireland in 1999 with my father. This song about a young man pondering emigration from the country and people he loves captures the haunting emotions I felt standing by the sea in Donegal looking west.
The Whistling Gypsy Rover, Clancy Brothers. While living in San Francisco in the early ’90s, I fell in with a group which kept the culture alive with monthly Ceilis, Irish dance parties. One Christmas they featured the Wren Boys, an Irish tradition for St. Stephen’s Day, when boys dress in rags and sing songs to raise pennies to bury a wren who was collateral damage at the stoning of the first Christian martyr. The Wren Boys performed this tune which has been a favorite of mine ever since.
Four Green Fields, Kathleen Largey. I have an uneasy ambivalence about rebel songs. They are rousing, and certainly get my Irish up, but when I peer too closely at the cause of The Troubles, I see the ugliness that reduced righteous Catholic soldiers to nothing more than Bolshevik terrorists. I stay away from songs that lionize the IRA, but am thoroughly seduced by the call of patriotism. This song speaks to the love of country which does not dissipate even in defeat.
The Town I Loved So Well, Kathleen Largey. Another rebel song, and one which invokes the pride one feels for a hometown, the dignity of common life and the indomitable spirit that will not surrender to terror and repression.
A Nation Once Again, The Wolfe Tones. A rebel song that cries out for freedom in terms “We, the People” appreciate and should amplify. Taking his cue from ancient Greece and Rome, and invoking our Declaration of Independence in an assertion that “freedom comes from God’s right hand, And needs a Godly train,” the singer calls upon “righteous men [who] must make our land A Nation once again!” None of the Marxism that poisoned the freedom movement and no apologia for the atheistic moral-relativism that opened the door for the random killing of civilians, including women and children. This is unabashedly patriotic ballad is a great closer.
Of course, I could name dozens more. Anyone care to help me out?