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Updated 06/29/2017


Amhran na bhFiann
(The Soldier's Song)
Peadar Kearney

The Irish national anthem is a source of some tension and confusion. At frequent intervals over the past seventy-five years, its text has been attacked as inappropriate. The same objections have been repeated: that its militaristic subject matter and sentiments are irrelevant for a modern, independent, neutral state, or that the text perpetuates attitudes which are an obstacle to reconciliation. Within the past year the leaders of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have expressed a willingness to consider alternatives. Perhaps correspondingly, the anthem is popular and quite widely used in Republican circles, not least in Northern Ireland.

The music has also been attacked, in less specific terms, as not being of sufficient caliber for a national anthem. A suggestion which regularly recurs is that there might be a competition to find a new anthem.

Peadar Kearney, an IRB member and the author of many popular political songs and verses, produced the text of ‘The Soldier’s Song’, working in collaboration with Patrick Heeney, who was mainly responsible for the melody. The original text was in English and consisted of three stanzas and a chorus. The words and music may well have been written as early as 1907. The text was first published in Bulmer Hobson’s Irish Freedom in September 1912, with, however, no attribution of author.

It became increasingly popular as a marching and rallying song among the Volunteers between 1912 and 1916; it confirmed that they were ‘Soldier’s rather than ‘rebels’. On the belts of their uniforms, the Volunteers wore the words ‘Óglaigh na hÉireann’, ‘Soldiers of Ireland’. By general account it was in the internment camps after the Easter Rising that ‘The Soldier’s Song’ came to be widely used. Before independence the song and music were published on a number of occasions, in Ireland and in the United States, with the consent of Peadar Kearney (Patrick Heeney died in 1911).

After the establishment of the Irish Free State, ‘The Soldier’s Song’ continued to be strongly associated with the army. It was played routinely as a ceremonial closing at army meetings and festivities, much as ‘God Save the King’ was used by the British. In the first years of the Free State, there was, however, no officially adopted national anthem. Thomas Moore’s ‘Let Erin Remember’ was often played on formal occasions abroad. ‘God Save Ireland’ and ‘A Nation Once Again’ were also used.

Both the government and other bodies recognized the need to designate an anthem formally, not least to discourage renditions of ‘God Save the King’ from unionists in the Free State. The approach of the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 prompted the Department of External Affairs to ask the office of the President of the Executive Council to take steps to establish an anthem. Various suggestions were made, including a public competition or, alternatively, asking ‘a number of Irish poets and writers’ to submit verses which might be used together with the music of ‘Let Erin Remember’. It was assumed that the text would be in Irish. Despite further prompting, the government took no decisive action, and ‘Let Erin Remember’ was played at the Olympic Games.

In this situation, on June 12, 1924, the Dublin Evening Mail announced a competition for a set of verses for ‘A National Hymn to the Glory of Ireland’, occasioned by the lack of any ‘national hymn or anthem for use on ceremonial or convivial occasions’. A prize of £50 was offered for a text, the assumption being that music could be written later. W.B. Yeats, Lennox Robinson and James Stephens were appointed to evaluate the results.

On October 22, the Dublin Evening Mail was forced to publish its committee’s conclusion that having ‘read the poems…we are all agreed that there is not one amongst them worth fifty guineas or any portion of it…Most of the verses submitted to us were imitations of “God Save the King”‘. The competition was opened once again, but now the editors themselves selected six anonymous entries and asked readers to vote for their favorite. On March 10, 1925, Mrs. Mary Farren Thomas of Clontarf was awarded the £50 prize for ‘God of Our Ireland’. And here the matter was dropped; what started as a publicity ploy for the newspaper became a burden and an embarrassment.

It did however direct public attention to the absence of an accepted anthem and occasioned considerable editorial comment and correspondence in newspapers. The Evening Mail’s distinguished committee of writers expressed the view that ‘national anthems have always in the past been one man’s thought, written out for that man’s pleasure, and taken up by a nation afterwards’.

The army’s own publication, An tÓglach (The Soldier), commented on the debacle:

‘The Soldier’s Song’ is good enough for the present…The note of defeat or sorrow is absent from it. In the songs of the past, sadness, disappointment and failure had too much prominence. The new spirit was caught by the writer of ‘The Soldier’s Song’.

The decision was made by the Executive Council to adopt ‘The Soldier’s Song’ as the national anthem for all purposes. The reasons for choosing this rather than another air are not recorded, but it seems likely that by this point ‘The Soldier’s Song’ had become so firmly established by custom that replacing it would prove difficult, and William Cosgrave is on record as wanting to retain it. The decision was not accompanied by any publicity, and was announced only by means of a brief answer to a backbencher’s question in the Dáil on July 20, 1926.

The timing was convenient: it came shortly before that year’s Dublin Horse Show. The Horse Show was mainly a domestic rather than an international event before 1926. ‘God Save the King’ had formerly been an important feature of the ceremonies. W.B. Yeats’s sisters, attending in 1921, noted that ‘there was no National Anthem—it was significant of the changed public opinion in Ireland as regards England’.

In 1926, however, invitations were issued to foreign teams, including one from Britain, and the event was bigger and more festive than ever before. When the various teams arrived at Kingstown, they were met by bands playing their particular national anthems. The Irish Times reported that ‘for the first time the tricolour flag of the Free State floated over the Governor General’s box on the grandstand’, and noted that when he visited the show ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was played. Similarly, national anthems were played as teams were led onto the field for the culminating international competition on Friday August 6.

The relationship between the text of Kearney’s ‘The Soldier’s Song’ and the Irish national anthem is still complex. Not long after adopting it, the Executive Council embarked upon the practice of regarding only the chorus as the anthem. The Executive Council, in March 1929, authorized Colonel Fritz Brasé, director of the army band, to write a suitable arrangement which was approved and published the following July. Brasé’s arrangement consisted of the refrain only and, by implication, from this point on only the chorus of ‘The Soldier’s Song’ constituted the national anthem.

At the same time the title of the anthem was settled. Earlier publications had given various titles, including ‘A Soldier’s Song’, ‘The Soldier’s Song’, and even ‘Soldiers of Erin’. It was however decided to use the title ‘The Soldier’s Song’. These official positions have been confirmed by successive governments in their correspondence, despite the fact that the other verses of the song, and variant titles, are frequently printed by non-official sources.

Today, relatively few people have heard the music and verses of ‘The Soldier’s Song’ played in public.  The lyrics are those of an Irish rebel song, exhorting all Irish people to participate in the struggle to end the hegemony ("despot" over "slave") of the English ("Saxon foe") in Ireland ("Inisfail"). There are allusions to earlier Irish rebellions, and to support from Irish Americans ("from a land beyond the wave").

The chorus is the established National Anthem. Slight variations exist in published versions; the following texts are from the Department of Foreign Affairs' sheet music.




Sinne Fianna Fáil,
atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
thar toinn do ráinig chughainn,
Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil, chun báis nó saoil,
Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaig amhrán na bhfiann

Extended version continues..

Seo dhíbh, a chairde, duan Ógláigh
Caithréimeach bríomhar ceolmhar
Ár dtinte cnámh go buacach táid
’S an spéir go mín réaltógach
Is fonnmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo
’S go tiúnmhar glé roimh thíocht don ló
Fé chiúnas chaomh na hoíche ar seol
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann

Sinne Fianna Fáil...

Cois bánta réidhe, ar ardaibh sléibhe
Ba bhuadhach ár sinsir romhainn
Ag lámhach go tréan fén sárbhrat séin
’Tá thuas sa ghaoth go seolta
Ba dhúchas riamh dár gcine cháidh
Gan iompáil siar ó imirt áir
’S ag siúl mar iad i gcoinne námhad
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann

Sinne Fianna Fáil...

A bhuíon nach fann d’fhuil Ghaeil is Gall
Sin breacadh lae na saoirse
Tá sceimhle ’s scanradh i gcroíthe námhad
Roimh ranna laochra ár dtíre
Ár dtinte is tréith gan spréach anois
Sin luisne ghlé sa spéir anoir
’S an bíobha i raon na bpiléar agaibh
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann

Sinne Fianna Fáil...


Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the "bearna baoil",
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal,
We’ll chant a soldier's song


We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng
The starry heavens o’er us
Impatient for the coming fight
And as we await the morning’s light
Here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we...

In valley green, on towering crag
Our fathers fought before us
And conquered ’neath the same old flag
That’s proudly floating o’er us
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace
And as we march, the foe to face
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we...

Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!
The long-watched day is breaking
The serried ranks of Inisfail
Shall set the tyrant quaking
Our camp fires now are burning low
See in the east a silv’ry glow
Out yonder waits the Saxon foe
So chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we...