Sunday 23 October 2022

For All Their Wars Are Merry - Declan Finn - An Examination of Irish Rebel Songs

For All Their Wars Are Merry: 
An Examination of Irish Rebel Songs
Declan Finn
ISBN 9781537131290

This is the fifteenth book I have read from the masterful pen of Declan Finn, it is also the first non-fiction that I have read, and I believe the only one that us not fiction. I have read the first 9 in his Saint Tommy NYPD Series, the first 2 in the White Ops Series, and the first in the currently out of print Pius Trilogy of 5 books. And I have loved almost all of his books that I have read, but with that being said, I have an even greater appreciation for his skill and talent after reading this volume! This volume was unlike any of the others I have read, and yet Finn’s sense of humour, penetrating critique, and deep insight is evident in this work as much if not more than his fictional volumes.

The description of this volume is:

“"For all Their Wars Are Merry" is an examination of the uses and implications of songs in Irish terrorist organizations such as the IRA and all of their various and sundry splinter factions.  Basically, it will examine why the Irish have these songs as such a widespread phenomenon, and what the songs tell us about these Irish terrorists.

From songs like “My Little Armalite” to “Come out Ye Black and Tans,” one gets the feeling that the IRA doesn't quite take their British opponents as seriously as one would think, given the amount of bombs and firepower the IRA and all of its mutations has thrown at them in their fight to have Northern Ireland united with the Republic of Ireland, or at least independent of the United Kingdom.

Along the way, it will cover why the Irish terrorists have such songs, why they apologize for their atrocities, how Catholic they thing they are. It will trace these traditions going back back to the days of the Druidic Bards-Irish poets-of the early Celts some three thousand years ago, up to and including the poet Patrick Pearse in the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin.”

The volume has an extensive list of end notes. It also contains an appendix with all the lyrics of songs mentioned, transcribed by the author. The only thing that is really missing is a table of contents. The chapters in this volume are:

Introduction: The Limits of Terror:
     How to Define a Terrorist and a Rebel.
A Brief History of the Irish Rebel: 
     A Sketch of Rebellion
Heroes and Hatreds:
     Examining Songs of Irish Rebel Heroes
The Rebels Whom Bards Forgot:
     Rebels Who Were Not Honored
Dances With Armalites:
     The Rebel Songs of Humor
Wrap the Flag Around Me, Boys:
     Examining Irish Memorial Songs
Soldiers and Bombers:
     The Self-Image of the Rebel
Apologies and Other Oddities: 
     The Irish Rebel as Catholic
A Bard One Cannot Refuse:
     Comparing Songs of the Irish Rebel to Songs of the Italian Mafia
Appendix A Songs of the Irish Rebel
     “A Nation Once Again”
     “Amhrán Na bhFiann” - Peader Kearny
     “A Soldier's Song” - Peadar Kearney
     “Auf Wiedershen Crossmaglen”
     The Black Watch
     “Bold Robert Emmet.”
     “The Boys of the Old Brigade.”
     “Broad Black Brimmer, The”
     “Boolavogue,” also called “Father Murphy of the County Wexford.”
     “Michael Collins.”
     The Croppy Boy
     Down By The Liffeyside
    “De Valera”
     “The Fenian Record Player”
     “God Save Ireland”
     “Lonely Woods of Upton”
     “Rifles of the IRA”
     “Sniper's Promise”
     “Nelson's Farewell”
     “The Loughgall Ambush”
     “The Supergrass Song.”
     “The Patriot Game”
     Kevin Barry
     “Johnson's Motor Car”
     “Come Out Ye Black And Tans”
     “Wrap The Green Flag Round Me, Boys”
     “James Connolly.”
     Follow me up to Carlow (traditional, 1500)
     “Little Armalite.”
     “My Little Armalite.”
     “Joe McDonnell.”
     “Henry Joy”
     “James Connolly”
     “Kelly, The Boy from Killane”
Appendix B Songs of the Mafia
     I cunfirenti—The Traitors
     Mafia Leggi D’Onuri- Mafia Law of Honor
     'Ndranghetà, camurra e mafia
     Omertà- The Law of Silence
     Sangu chiama sangu- Blood Calls for blood
     Tarantella guappa
     The Commissioner
     Sentenced to Life
     I cacciaturi i Muntaltu
     Hunters in the High Mountains
Appendix C
     Early Uprising
     The Start of the Whole Catastrophe.
     Mission Improbable.
     Into The Fire
     A Question of Intent.

I only highlighted a few passages my first time through this volume, they were:

“That year was the start of many things. It also sent me on a journey with what would become The Pius Trilogy. And, most importantly for our purposes, it was two years after I picked up 50 Irish Rebel Songs, by a group called The Fighting Men from Crossmaglen. You see, it was a tradition among my family to go to Brooklyn's Great Irish Fair, out in Coney Island. And we picked up the CD not knowing that it would be of greater importance later on.”

“Terrorism is the use of force, deliberately targeting combatants and/or noncombatants as a part of an overall campaign of intimidation for political ends, as opposed to guerrilla warfare, where the participants involved deliberately try to avoid injuries to noncombatants.”

“Essentially, every terrorist is a rebel, but certainly, not all rebels are terrorists—not by the terms as set down in this essay.”

“These songs also fulfill a basic human need of “tell me a story,” as well as to keep indignation alive within the ranks; anger-provoking indignation which keeps a terrorist movement alive (anger may not improve anyone’s fighting ability, but it at least motivates them to fight).”

“This leads into a common denominator of all the hero songs—they are all focused on those aspects of the Irish rebel where they fought. Connolly fought and was executed—he was not referred to as a socialist or a union man, but as a fighter. Joe McDonnell was imprisoned for “shaking freedom’s hand” as a PIRA man, fighting with weapons, and then fighting for the “dignity of man” in a hunger strike. Kevin Barry became just another martyr in the struggle. In the songs of Robert Emmet, Kelly the boy from Killane, Father Murphy, the men of the Loughall Ambush, and Michael Collins, they are all sung of as fighters, and nothing more.”

I grew up in a time and place where many hated the English. There was often talk of 400 long years of oppression. I had a Catholic Secondary school teacher state that ‘the only good Englishman is a dead Englishman.’ And a very aged nun at the same school tell stories of how the ‘blood would flow in the streets’. I had a relative who was visiting Canada say I should not go to Ireland because I looked to much like my cousins and they were on the lam. I remember the bombings, the hunger strikes, and the violence and was taught to embrace it so we could be free Irish and Catholic! 

This volume examines songs, some of which I would have heard in pubs, bars and maybe even family events. Finn does an incredible job examining the songs, breaking them down into categories. Even when typing out the list of songs many of his points came back to mind.  This was an excellent read. It took me back over 3 decades to my youth, and the world in a different time and place. I can easily recommend this for history buffs and especially for those of us from Irish descent.  

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan

Books by Declan Finn:
Love At First Bite Series:

Other books:

Anthologies contributed to:
Luna: Planetary Anhtology Series Book 2
Supernatural Streets
Starflight: Tales From The Starport Lounge
Mercury: Planetary Anthology Series Book 4
Venus: Planetary Anthology Series Book 5
Mars: Planetary Anthology Series Book 7
Places Beyond the Wild: A Z-Day Anthology
Shoot the Devil: Ten Tales of Humans Defeating the Demonic
Fantastic Schools, Volume 6

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