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Updated 05/24/2013


The Wearing of the Green

The Wearing of the Green is an anonymous Irish street ballad dating to 1798.  Wearing a shamrock in the "caubeen" (beret or Tam o'Shanter) was a sign of rebellion and green was the color of the Society of the United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary organization. During the period of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 displaying revolutionary insignia was made punishable by hanging. The context of the song is the repression that led up to and followed the rebellion.

Mentioned in the lyrics of the song is “Napper Tandy.”  James Napper Tandy (shown above) was the son of a Dublin ironmonger, Tandy started life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he became a member of the corporation of Dublin, and was popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland, in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

In April 1780, Tandy was expelled from the Dublin Volunteers for proposing the expulsion of the Duke of Leinster, whose moderation had offended the extremists.  He was one of the most conspicuous of the small revolutionary party, chiefly of the shopkeeper class, who formed a permanent committee in June 1784 to agitate for reform, and called a convention of delegates from all parts of Ireland.  The manner in which his name was introduced in the well-known ballad, "The Wearing of the Green", proves that he succeeded in impressing the popular imagination of the rebel party in Ireland.


Oh! Paddy, dear, and did you hear
The news that's going round,
The shamrock is forbid by law
To grow on Irish ground.
Saint Patrick's Day no more we'll keep
His color can't be seen
For there's a bloody law agin'
The wearing of the green.

I met with Napper Tandy
And he took me by the hand
And he said "How's poor old Ireland?
And how does she stand?"
She's the most distressful country
That ever you have seen,
They're hanging men and women there
For wearing of the green.

Then since the color we must wear
Is England's cruel red
Sure Ireland's sons will n'er forget
The blood that they have shed.
You may take the shamrock from your hat
And cast it on the sod,
But 'twill take root and flourish still
Tho' underfoot 'tis trod.

When the law can stop the blades of grass
From growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summer time
Their verdure dare not show,
Then I will change the color
I wear in my caubeen,
But till that day I'll stick for aye
To wearing of the green.

But if at last our color should
Be torn from Ireland's heart,
Her sons with shame and sorrow
From the dear old sod will part.
I've heard a whisper of a country
That lives far beyond the say,
Where rich and poor stand equal
In the light of freedom's day.

Oh, Erin! Must we lave you,
Driven by the tyrant's hand?
Must we ask a mother's welcome
From a strange but happy land?
Where the cruel cross of England's thralldom
Never shall be seen
And where in peace we'll live and die
A-wearing of the green.