ABSTRACT

Many popular Irish ‘rebel’ songs praise ‘heroes’. Having acquired nearly godlike reputations in verse, they include ‘Bold’ Robert Emmet (executed in 1803 for rebellious activities), Kevin Barry (hanged in Mountjoy Jail at the age of twenty), and James Connolly (shot to death by firing squad while suffering from wounds sustained in the 1916 Easter Rising). This chapter examines how memories of those who died for Irish freedom were instilled through songs. In former times, they were kept alive through circulating penny broadsides; they are maintained through more sophisticated media currently. A close reading of numerous verses reveals frequently used tropes like paying one’s ‘debt’ to the ‘cause’ and being willing to serve as a model for the valiant brave of the future. The cultural and historical role of the hunger strike is examined, as is the perceived shift in tone in recent compositions; both raise questions as to the endurance of the Irish ‘rebel song’ despite its niche market popularity today.