#OTD in 1933 – The Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney’s,’The Soldiers Song’ (Amhrán na bhFiann) which becomes the national anthem.

The lyrics of ‘The Soldiers Song’ were written by Peadar Ó Cearnaigh (Kearney), an uncle of Brendan Behan, who together with Patrick Heeney composed the music.

Before the present-day National Anthem was adopted, “God Save Ireland” was the unofficial anthem used by the Fenians and the official anthem was “God Save the King” until the Irish Free State was established in 1922. The official anthem was seldom sung by nationalists.

The words of the anthem were written in 1907 and published in The Irish Freedom newspaper in 1912. It consisted of three stanzas and a chorus. The chorus was adopted as the National Anthem in 1926 and thus replaced the unofficial “God Save Ireland”. ‘The Soldiers Song’ was relatively unknown until it was sung by the rebels in the GPO during the Easter Rising in 1916 and later in the British internment camps. Liam Ó Rinn’ translated the English version to Irish in 1923. Liam Ó Rinn’s pen name was Coinneach. He was a civil servant and Irish-language writer and translator, best known for “Amhrán na bhFiann”, a translation of “The Soldier’s Song”, which has almost eclipsed Peadar Kearney’s English-language original.

In 1934 Ireland acquired the copyright of the song for the amount of £1,200.

A section of the National Anthem (consisting of the first four bars followed by the last five) is also the Presidential Salute.

The lyrics of “Amhrán na bhFiann” have been criticised by some commentators for alleged outdatedness, militarism, and anti-British sentiment. Others deny such faults or attribute them to national anthems generally. In 2017, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee invited comments on “the most appropriate way the State should treat the National Anthem”. Its chair, Mark Daly, said, “The debate around this issue includes aspects of copyright law, cultural tolerance, respect for national symbols, public opinion, free speech and a range of other factors.”

It has also been pointed out that the melody is difficult to play, sometimes the whole song has been played rather than the chorus, or that it has been played at the wrong tempo – this has happened at recent Olympic games.

While most of Ireland’s troubles in the last number of years have been connected with the dividing of our island into 26 counties of the Republic and the six counties of Northern Ireland, which are still under British rule, strange as it may seem, 32 counties were selected and named by the British Government as far back as the early 13th century. In the year 1210, King John of England established the 12 counties of Dublin, Meath, Louth, Carlow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary. During the reign of Queen Mary in the 16th century, the Queen’s County (now Laois) and the King’s county (now Offaly) were formed. About the middle of the 16th century, Sir Henry Sidney formed Longford and the counties of Galway, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Clare.

Clare was later included in the Munster province. Around the year 1584 the Lord Deputy, Sir John Perrot formed the seven counties of Armagh, Monaghan, Tyrone, Donegal, Fermanagh, Cavan and Coleraine, which was later to be called Co Derry. The other two counties Antrim and Down were already in existence. All of these total 30 counties and during the reign of King Henry VIII, Co Meath was divided into two – Meath and Co Westmeath.

Wicklow (Ireland’s youngest county) was formed in 1665 by Sir Arthur Chichester who took parts of Co Dublin, Co Kildare, Co Carlow, and Co Wexford to form this new county. This gives us the present 32 counties of Ireland. In the parish of Donegal, counties Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford meet with roughly 9,000 acres of the parish in each county.

At present, Ireland is a country containing two National Anthems and it is the ardent hope of most nationalists that she will be united with one National Anthem.

Featured photo: Irish Tricolour flying high and proud in Co Armagh, Mac Creative Photography

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Stair na hÉireann is steeped in Ireland's turbulent history, culture, ancient secrets and thousands of places that link us to our past and the present. With insight to folklore, literature, art, and music, you’ll experience an irresistible tour through the remarkable Emerald Isle.