Cover Story: (25) Blueberry Hill. Fats Domino or Johnny Hallyday and Celine Dion
Dipping into the Past: the beauty and power of English folk yields a personal top 10

Dipping into the Past: the Irish Troubles and music

October 2017 update (a further update appears below as a footnote) ...: I believe Salut! Live's archive deserves a wider audience, not for any merit in the writing but because it brings great music to those who stray into these pages.
That is why I occasionally reproduce items from the past, as now with some reflections from 2007 on musical by-products of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Brexit, and continuing problems that arise when two political parties with utterly opposing philosophies share power (power-sharing is currently suspended and there is a risk of direct rule from Westminster being imposed), may not lead to a return to violence on the scale of the Troubles.
But they leave some of us less optimistic than when this article first appeared 10 years ago. Otherwise, I stand by all that I wrote then - and you'll find I have added clips of the songs mentioned ...

The Troubles brought desperately sad and often tragic events to Northern Ireland, and the impact was felt far beyond the six counties that make up the province.

There seems reason to hope that the stumbling march towards peaceful reconciliation of the competing demands and traditions has at last produced something that, while a long way short of perfection, could hold.

But it is worth remembering that great art of one form or another often has its roots in times of bitter sorrow.

Songs of poverty and emigration, struggle and warfare and, on a more mundane level, lost love dominate the folk music repertoire. The Troubles were no exception, offering abundant inspiration to gifted musicians, singers and writers.

I have complied my own short list of the best songs to come out of those three decades of strife. It is not the definitive selection; there is ample scope for different ideas and candidates, and since there is not - yet - any serious tradition of reader participation at Salut! Live, I will also launch a thread, or maybe two, at Mudcat to invite the views of others. 

But here is my choice, in each case offering a link from the artist's name to the record shelf where an album containing the song may be purchased: Tommy Sands There Were Roses The anguished story, based on fact, of two friends from either side of the Protestant/Catholic or, you prefer, Loyalist/Nationalist divide, who became victims of tit-for-tat killings. 

Cara Dillon also sings an excellent version as might be expected from a sensitive young woman who grew up not far from Greysteel, scene of one of the worst single instances of mass murder. Tommy Sands gets my vote because it was his words, and his voice, that originally and so searingly captured the helplessness of ordinary people in the face of such evil.

Isaac was my friend! he cried, he begged them with his tears/ But centuries of hatred have ears that do not hear/ An eye for an eye, it was all that filled their minds/ And another eye for another eye till everyone is blind


Paul Brady The Island Irish republicans reacted with contempt to Brady's incisive lyrics asking if cars bombs and ambushes represented the freedom they sought.

Like Tommy Sands, Brady is from border country. He was, at the very least, fully entitled to ask his questions. And it's a magnificent, powerful song.

And I guess these young boys dying in the ditches/ Is just what being free is all about/ And how this twisted wreckage down on main street/ Will bring us all together in the end

Paulbrady1 Paul Brady: Folk Images


Christy Moore North and South of the River Written with Bono and The Edge, this song (the lyrics are Moore's) neatly reflects both the search for an imperfect peace and the mellowing outlook of Moore himself.

Some high ground is not worth taking Some connections are not worth making This old church bell no longer ringing Some old songs are not worth bringing

Over at Mudcat, the idea of a second thread comes from a desire to be even-handed and will invite suggestions as to the strongest or most evocative Irish rebel songs.

Irish nationalism has always seemed to me to be a respectable philosophy; you do not need to support or even forgive the IRA to be able to regard The Foggy Dew, from the Easter Rising, or Four Green Fields, by Tommy Makem, as songs of the highest quality.

I have no more than skimmed the surface. Not everyone would go along with G K Chesterton's summing up of the "Great Gaels of Ireland":

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad

But I will come up with an appropriate prize - three CDs - if anyone responds with a candidate and reasoning strong enough to make me think again on any song inspired by the Troubles, or the preceding centuries of conflict.

And if anyone comes up with a contender from the loyalist viewpoint, and in my experience these are somewhat rare, I promise to listen with an equally open mind. There is no particular deadline. I will leave it for a few weeks, see how it goes and then announce a closing date (or quietly bury the whole idea!). My decision, as ever, must be final.

* UPDATE: OCTOBER 2017 - This article drew no responses for several months. Then one "Captain Ginger" posted the first comment you see below and, a little later after I wondered about the authorship of a song he mentioned, which I had always attributed to my friend and confrere, Geoff Lakeman, Anne Kennedy Truscott offered an authoritative account of its origins.
It turned out that Geoff was aware of Mickey MacConnell’s song but had written his own using the same title.
But the real motivation for Capt Ginger's contribution was to draw my attention to a song of the Troubles that he especially admired, Mickey’s Peter Pan and Me. The lyrics can be read here and are evocative and dignified without pretence at balance. Peter Pan and Me deserves to be listed along with the afore-mentioned examples. Here is MacConnell singing his own song ...


Captain Ginger

I'm a huge fan of Mickey MacConnell's 'Peter Pan and Me'. Too often only remembered for 'Only Our Rivers Run Free' (written at a preposterously young age), Mickey has written some excellent songs since, of which 'Peter Pan...' is one. Yes, it's another sad and elegiac song, and yet another from ostensibly a nationalist viewpoint, but it's wonderfully poignant and transcends any divide.
Of his other material, 'The Boys of the Byline Brigade' should appeal particularly, as it should to anyone who has had dealings with the Night Desk.

Colin Randall

I will check on this but I must say that I always thought The Boys of the Byline Brigade was written by Geoff Lakeman. I last heard Geoff (father of Sean, Seth & Sam) sing it, accompanying himself as ever on concertina, at the Daily Mirror's farewell party for a retiring colleague and friend, Sydney Young.

Anne Kennedy Truscott

Regarding Colin Randall's post :
"The Boys of the Byline Brigade" WAS written by Mickey MacConnell and not by Geoff Lakeman. Mickey, singer/songwriter/journalist, and Geoff knew one and other, years ago, and Mickey told me that he used to joke with Geoff that one day he'd write a song about the journalism profession, and did so, but this was sometime after they had gone their separate ways in life.
I sang one of Mickey's songs in a folk club in Devon about 15 years ago and Geoff, who was there that night, told me he used to know Mickey. On my next trip back to Ireland I mentioned meeting Geoff to Mickey and he told me to tell Geoff that he had finally got around to writing that song, "The Boys of the Byline Brigade". I duly told Geoff this on my return. Due to the passage of time, I cannot now recollect whether I gave Geoff Mickey's contact details, or whether I merely passed on a copy of Mickey's song to him, but I do recollect that Geoff wasn't aware of the existence of the song until I told him that Mickey had finally written it.

Colin Randall

I should long ago have thanked Anne for her detailed explanation of the provenance of Boys of the Byline Brigade as well as finally acknowledging the veracity of Captain Ginger's comments. I could argue that neither qualified for the prize CDs since their contributions were posted many months after my article appeared here with mention of the mini-competition. But I shall try to contact them and offer to delve in my CD collection for suitable albums (while suspecting they have superior collections of their own). I shall make a start by reposting this now (2017).

Colin Randall

And then suddenly, while trying to locate contact details to alert Capt Ginger and Anne to the updated post, I came across this subsequent comment from Anne - which appeared in a follow-up item ( showing that Geoff wrote his own song of the same title . I had completely forgotten that I looked into it way back then and established it to be the case. Memory, as Anne says, plays tricks but this is what she said in her follow-up message on May 14 2008:

Dear Colin, Thanks for contacting Geoff Lakeman and clearing up the matter. Thanks also to Geoff for helping to eliminate the confusion. I am a long standing friend of Mickey and his wife Maura since the 1980's, and I'm a great admirer of his superb ability as a songwriter. I have often heard him singing his Byline song, and being a firm believer that a songwriter should always receive due credit for his, or her work, I'm afraid I went ballistic at the idea that someone else was apparently being credited with having written "Mickey's song" !! Hence my posting onto your website, in Mickey's defence !! Not ever having heard Geoff Lakeman sing HIS Byline song, I had no idea that there existed a SECOND song with the same title. It was only after reading your latest blog that I now dimly recollect that, when I passed on Mickey's message about having written the song to Geoff, that Geoff had muttered something about having sent money to Mickey for the lyrics and hadn't received them ..... which means that I was incorrect in stating that Geoff wasn't aware of Mickey's song till I had told him about it, and Mickey had obviously completely forgotten that he had performed his song in Geoff's hearing on an occasion some 20 odd years previously. My apologies for my faulty memory. The passage of time does strange things to everyone's powers of recollection !! When I moved from temporary residence in Plymouth to East Cornwall in 1995, I stopped going to the folk club in Devon and consequently have not seen Geoff since then. I would dearly love to hear Geoff's Byline song..... hint hint !! Mickey is still making good music and writing great songs and playing regular sessions with his fellow musicians, both locally in the Listowel area and further afield. On my regular trips back to Listowel I delight in the opportunity to attend at least one of these great sessions. Mickey is on you tube and can be seen if you go to............ and lastly, accompanying piccolo player Jim Gornall, one of the fellow musicians previously mentioned) Thanks again for investigating and clarifying that there are TWO songs with the same title. Best Regards, Anne Kennedy Truscott

Anne Kennedy Truscott

Hello Colin,
I have just found your re-post of October 26th 2017 hiding in a corner of my facebook, tonight (9/12/2017). On the subject of songs about the Northern Ireland conflict, might I recommend to you another powerful song by Mickey MacConnell, called "Follow the Flag" ?
On a lighter note Mickey has also written a very funny song about the perils of shopping in ALDI and LIDL (German supermarkets with branches all over Ireland and the UK, and other places too). It is on you tube and is worth a look, if you have not already seen it.
Best wishes to you and yours for a happy Christmas and a good New Year.

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