What Exactly Is The Fields of Athenry About?
The Fields of Athenry has to be the most widely known Irish folk songs in the world. Whether you are walking down the streets of Dublin, at a session or at a football match you are bound to hear the words being screamed and more than likely butchered.
Everyone presumes The Fields of Athenry is an old Irish ballad but it was actually written in 1979 by Pete St. John.
What exactly is the song about?
St. John had spent some time in America and after he came home he decided to write ‘The Fields of Athenry’ about the struggles which he had missed during the Irish famine.
He chose the village of Athenry in Galway to base his song as a lot of the information he had heard about the famine had come from the west of Ireland in Galway.
The song itself tells of the empty fields left behind after the devastation of the potato famine.
By a lonely prison wall I heard a young girl calling Michael they are taking you away For you stole Trevelyn’s corn So the young might see the morn. Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.
As well as the potato famine, there is a young fictional man referenced called Michael who is being taken way as a result of him stealing ‘Trevelyn’s corn’. This was a corn that was imported from India in wake of the potato famine, but the Irish mill’s were unable to grind the corn.
He is presumed to have been taken to Bandon, in County Cork where “prison ship lies waiting in the bay”. Here prison ships were sent off to Austrailia full to the brim of ‘criminals’. Men, women and children were collected from prisons around the country and most did not even survive the trip to Austrailia.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry Where once we watched the small free birds fly. Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.
The mix of both the potato famine and the English rule over Ireland provides a political theme and setting for the song.
Only the Irish would be able to turn such a grim and negative song into one of such support and positivity. Around the world you will hear it being belted out at football matches, in pubs and even down the quiet back streets in neighbourhoods at all hours of the morning.
For any Irish who have ever emigrated they will no doubt have come home from a night out, grabbed a guitar and belted it out.
Although Pete St. John penned The Fields of Athenry, this led way for numerous other artists to interpret the lyrics which in turn seemed to be the deciding factor in it becoming the anthem that it is today.
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