The Fields of Athenry

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"The Fields of Athenry" is an Irish folk ballad set during the Great Irish Famine (1845–1850) about a fictional man named Michael from near Athenry in County Galway who has been sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, Australia, for stealing food for his starving family. It is a widely known and popular anthem for Irish sports supporters.

History[edit]

"The Fields of Athenry" was written in the 1970s by Pete St. John.[1] A claim was made in 1996 that a broadsheet ballad published in the 1880s had similar words; however, the folklorist and researcher John Moulden found no basis to this claim, and Pete St. John has stated that he wrote the words as well as the music.[2][3]

The song was first recorded in 1979 by Danny Doyle, reaching the top ten in the Irish Singles Chart.[1] The song charted again in 1982 for Barleycorn, reaching number seven in Ireland,[4] but the most successful version was released by Paddy Reilly in 1983: while peaking only at number four, it remained in the Irish charts for 72 weeks.[5] Two further versions have since reached the Irish top ten: the Cox Crew getting to number five in 1999, while Dance to Tipperary peaked at number six in 2001.[6]

The lyrics say the convict's crime is that he "stole Trevelyan's corn"; this is a reference to Charles Edward Trevelyan, a senior British civil servant in the administration of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Dublin Castle. Trevelyan believed that the starving Irish could subsist on maize, a grain that they had no knowledge of or experience in preparing.[7]

Recordings[edit]

Other artists to have recorded versions include Daniel O'Donnell, Frank Patterson, Ronan Tynan, Brush Shiels, James Galway, The Dubliners, Charlie Haden with daughter Petra Haden, Seanchai & The Unity Squad, Scottish band North Sea Gas, Newcastle upon Tyne band, Kelda with vocalist Jack Routledge, Yonkers-based group Shilelagh Law, California punk band No Use for a Name, New Zealanders Hollie Smith and Steve McDonald, Dropkick Murphys, London-Irish band Neck, The Durutti Column, The High Kings, the Epcot-based band Off Kilter, and by Dr. Kieran Moriarty and friends. Serbian bands who recorded the song include Orthodox Celts and Tir na n'Og. It was also recorded by a Polish band called Carrantuohill and in 2005 by a Hungarian folk-rock band Sacra Arcana. US Celtic/Klezmer/folk band Scythian recorded the song on their 2007 Immigrant Road Show album. It also featured in Irish Clubland with a dance beat. In the summer of 2013, it was recorded by Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly of Celtic Thunder for their album "Acoustically Irish" released on October 1, 2013.

A reggae version of this song was recorded by the Century Steel Band in the early 1990s.

Irish -Londoners, Neck, released a "Psycho-Ceilidh" version of the song as a single in support of the Republic of Ireland national football team during the 2002 FIFA World Cup.[8][9] While Dropkick Murphys recorded a punk-rock version of this song on their 2003 album Blackout, as well as a softer version they recorded specially for the family of Sergeant Andrew Farrar, a United States Marine from the 2nd Force Support Service Group killed in Fallujah, Iraq.[10] Blaggards blended the song with Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues in a medley called Prison Love Songs.[11] Other punk versions of the song have been recorded by the bands No Use for a Name, The Tossers, and the Broken O'Briens. The Greenland Whalefishers, a Celtic-punk band from Norway, also recorded a version on their Streets Of Salvation CD. The Pennsylvania based Celtic rock band, The Kilmaine Saints recorded a soulful version on their 2012 album Drunken Redemption.

The song was also recorded by Canadian Celtic rock band the Mudmen on their album "Another Day" released in 2010. The Mudmen feature bagpipers Rob and Sandy Campbell who perform on the Hockey Night In Canada theme song on CBC television.

Sporting anthem[edit]

The song was adopted by Republic of Ireland national football team supporters during the 1990 World Cup and subsequently by Celtic supporters in the early 1990s.[12][13]

Celtic Football Club in Glasgow has a large following of Irish descent.[14] During the Great Famine in Ireland during the 1840s, 15,000 Irish famine victims emigrated to Glasgow. When Celtic's long serving Irish goalkeeper Packie Byrne had a testimonial match in 1991, he invited Pete St John to attend the event and speak to the crowd before the game. St John began by thanking Glasgow for looking after the famine victims, and then began to sing Fields of Athenry, accompanied by thousands of fans. He later described it as one of the most memorable moments of his life.

The song's popularity, due in part to its use at sporting events, has helped to attract tourists to Athenry. In recognition of this, the town's officials invited Pete St John to a civic reception and presented him with an mace and chain as a token of their appreciation.

The song is also associated with the Connacht, Munster, London Irish and Ireland rugby union teams.[15] It's also seen by many as Galway's county song, sung at the various GAA matches when the county is playing.[16]

"The Fields of Anfield Road" was adopted by Liverpool supporters to the same tune, but with adapted lyrics referencing their history and stadium.[15]

At the Beijing Olympics Boxing Final featuring Irish boxer Kenny Egan, Tom Humphries of the Irish Times noted, "By the time Egan and Zhang emerged the great rhythmic roars of "Zhang! Zhang! Zhang!" competed to drown out the lusty warblings of a large Irish contingent who returned to singing of the problems of social isolation in rural Athenry."[17]

During the UEFA Euro 2012 group stage game against Spain, the Irish fans started singing the song roughly 83 minutes into the game and sang for the last six minutes of regulation, as well as past the full-time whistle, knowing that they were going to be eliminated from the group as they were down by four goals and had failed to accrue the points necessary to remain in the tournament.[18] The display of support was noted in media in Denmark,[19] Canada,[20] the Netherlands, Indonesia,[21] Spain,[22] Austria,[23] the United Arab Emirates,[24] Poland (where the match took place), the United Kingdom,[25] Belgium, Armenia,[26] Portugal, China,[27] Germany[28] and many more where the song's provenance was explained.[29]

In film[edit]

The song is sung in the movie Veronica Guerin, by Brian O'Donnell, then aged 11, a street singer in Dublin, although it is credited on the soundtrack as 'Bad News'. It is also sung a cappella by a female character at a wake in the 1994 film Priest. It also appears in Dead Poets Society, an anachronism, as the film is set in 1959, before the song was written,[30] and 16 Years of Alcohol. An a cappella version of the first verse and chorus can be found during a singing contest judged by Janeane Garofalo in the film The Matchmaker. Cancer Boy, a character in the 1996 film "Brain Candy", is briefly shown whistling the tune.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b St John, Pete (2003-01-01). "What are the most frequently asked Questions about your work?". Official website. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  2. ^ Cantaria: Contemporary: Fields of Athenry
  3. ^ Haines, Robin F. (2004). Charles Trevelyan and the Great Irish Famine. Four Courts. p. 25. ISBN 1-85182-755-2. 
  4. ^ "Search The Charts". The Irish Charts: All There Is To Know. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "Facts and Figures — Longest in the Charts". The Irish Charts. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  6. ^ "Search The Charts". The Irish Charts: All There Is To Know. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1962. The Great Hunger
  8. ^ http://www.discogs.com/Neck-Heres-Mud-In-Yer-Eye/release/1141437
  9. ^ http://rateyourmusic.com/artist/neck
  10. ^ "Drop Kick Murphy's discography - The Fields of Athenry, Farrar version". 
  11. ^ "Review of Blaggards' "Standards"". 
  12. ^ Kenny, Colum. Moments that Changed Us, Gill & Macmillan, 2005
  13. ^ Herald article, 10 April 1996, cited at http://www3.clearlight.com/~acsa/introjs.htm?/~acsa/songfile/FIELDSAT.HTM
  14. ^ Fields of Athenry as Sports Anthem
  15. ^ a b "Story of a Song". Irish Independent. 2006-09-30. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Egan earns silver lining but is left to rue what might have been". The Irish Times. 2008-08-08. 
  18. ^ "Irish fans sing The Fields of Athenry, Spain v Ireland Euro 2012: VIDEO". IrishCentral.com. June 14, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Irske tabere blev hyldet af 20.000 mand stort kor". Politiken.dk (in Danish). 2012-06-15. 
  20. ^ "Irish fans show world a winning spirit". ottawacitizen.com. June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Low Lie The Fields of Tremendous Support by Irish Football Fans". Jakarta Globe. June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Los campos de Athenry". diariodemallorca.es. June 17, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Aus für die besten Fans der Welt"> [2]
  24. ^ "Ireland fans shake the nations of Europe with allegiance". admcsport.com. June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  25. ^ "We had dreams and songs to sing". uk.eurosport.yahoo.com. June 15, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Our fans are the best in the world". June 15, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Fans singing in unison for the Irish". www.hinews.cn. June 16, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  28. ^ "The Fields of Athenry: Der Stolz der Unterlegenen" (in German). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. June 15, 2012. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Z cyklu: przeżyjmy to jeszcze raz. Niesamowita pieśń fanów Irlandii". Ciacha.net (in Polish). 2012-06-15. 
  30. ^ "Dead Poets Society". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 

See also[edit]