During our road trip to Galway, Donal taught us the words to a song called ‘The Fields of Athenry’. For some reason, my roommate and I absolutely love this song and continue to sing parts of it almost everyday. I figured it would be a good idea to look into the history behind the song so we know what we are singing about.
‘The Fields of Athenry’ was written by Pete St. John in 1970. The traditional Irish song tells the story of horrors of the Irish Famine through the story of a family that lives in Athenry in County Galway. Michael, the husband and father, steals corn from a man named Trevelyan so that his children will not starve to death. He is caught and is sentenced to prison and deported to Australia (Wikipedia- The Fields of Athenry).
Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan was one of the British officials assigned to deal with the Irish Famine. Although thousands and thousands of Irish people were dying everyday from the lack of food, Trevelyan refused to help them. Trevelyan even went so far as to say that the Famine was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” (Wikipedia- Sir Charles Trevelyan).
Thousands of convicts under British rule were sentenced to prison in Australia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Crime was an enormous problem in England and other British territories at the time and there simply was not enough space to house the convicts (Wikipedia- Convicts in Australia). Therefore, they were sent to Australian penal colonies located around the country (Australian Penal Colonies).
Today, this song is used as the unofficial anthem for many Irish sports teams. It is extremely popular with the Connacht and Munster rugby teams and is also often sung during Galway’s GAA matches (Wikipedia- The Fields of Athenry). During the famine, many Irish people fled to Scotland in search of food. Because of this mass exodus, there is an extremely large Irish population in Glasgow today. Fans of the Celtic Football Club in Glasgow sing this song at many matches in memory of the famine and their home country (Wikipedia- The Fields of Athenry).
‘The Fields of Athenry’ gained global recognition when Irish fans sung it at a 2012 UEFA Euro match against Spain. There was no way Ireland was going to win the match but the fans came together to sing this ballad (Wikipedia- The Fields of Athenry). Within minutes, the Irish fans’ singing “[overcame] all other noise in the stadium”, causing announcing to stop commenting on the plays so viewers at home could hear this “incredible example of Irish pride” (Yahoo News). This gesture was considered the most “touching display of support for any team” and was praised by dozens of countries around the world (O Canada). You can see the goose bump-inducing clip here: http://www.independent.ie/videos/soccer/irish-fans-singing-the-fields-of-athenry-spain-v-ireland-euro-2012-26890153.html.
‘The Fields of Athenry’ is much more than just a song. It tells the story of the hardships and struggle the Irish people have faced throughout their tumultuous history. This song also shows the resilience and determination of the Irish people. They will never stop fighting and always hold their history close to their hearts.
You can check out the lyrics here.