The Foggy Dew – a reflection on the Easter Rising 1916
The Foggy Dew is one of the most remarkable songs to have emerged out of the Easter Rising staged by Irish nationalists in 1916.
It was written by Canon Charles O’Neill who was a parish priest at Kilcoo in County Down.in the north of Ireland.
The melody is based on an old traditional Irish song called the Banks of Moorlough Shore.
Putting the song in its historic context
The Irish had staged rebellions against British rule for centuries without ever achieving the aim of independence. At the start of the 20th century that looked set to change as political negotiations had led the British Government to consider a Home Rule Bill.
However, all such moves were suspended by the British at the outbreak of the First World War, leaving the Irish unsure as to whether they would achieve independence.
200,000 Irishmen fought for Britain during the WWI
More than 200,000 Irishmen then went on to fight for Britain in the First World War.
However, while many Irish people supported the war effort, many others questioned whether Irish soldiers should be employed fighting for Britain and felt they should be fighting for Ireland instead.
Many Irish nationalists also saw a supreme irony in the concept that the war was ostensibly being fought to protect small nations – Belgium having been invaded by Germany.
Irish rebels felt Ireland was also a ‘small nation’ and should be free
Why were the British involved in a war to maintain Belgium’s independence when they would not allow Ireland to be independent?
Many Irish people saw this as hypocrisy.
Irish nationalists staged a rebellion
A small group of Irish nationalists staged a rebellion at Easter time in 1916. The rebellion was quickly put down by the British army and many of the rebels were later executed.
The rebellion produced mixed emotions amongst Irish people at that time. Many did not support the rebels and felt the rising was a mistake. However, their sentiments changed when the British decided to execute the rebels as a warning to others.
It was seen as brutal and gross over-reaction. Far from acting as a warning to the others, the heavy handed tactics increased support for the nationalist cause among ordinary Irish citizens.
Foggy Dew sums up Irish feelings about the Easter Rising
The Foggy Dew is a masterful piece of work because it both tells the story of the rebellion at the same time as describing the sentiments many Irish people felt as they reflected on what happened.
They felt things could have been so different if only some of those 200,000 Irish servicemen had fought with the rebels instead of fighting for Britain in foreign war zones.
As down the glen one Easter morn
In the opening verse the singer describes being passed by squadrons of marching men as he rode into Dublin city that Easter morn. They were the Irish rebels going into action. There were no pipes playing or drums beating as might be expected on a military march.
Instead, the only sound was the Angelus bell ringing out across the River Liffey, which runs through Dublin. The Angelus bell was rung from churches as a call to prayer, perhaps the suggestion is that the coming rebellion has right on its side.
They flung out the flag of war
One of the buildings captured by the rebels was the General Post Office in Dublin, where they flung out the republican flag – the flag of war.
The feeling of the rebels was that even if they lost their lives by their actions, it was better to die on Irish soil for an Irish cause than to die for Britain’s sake in foreign battle fields like Suvla and Sud El Bar.
Ominously though for the rebels, their campaign had hardly begun before the British are sailing in “with their great big guns” to restore order.
O had they died by Pearse’s side
The singer then points out that it was Britain that had bade Irish soldiers to fight so that small nations might be free.
He points out the irony felt by many Irish people at that time: had those soldiers fought in the rebellion, had “they died by Pearse’s side” then the outcome could have been different.
Patrick Pearse was one of the leaders of the rebellion and the first to be executed afterwards.
Recordings of the Foggy Dew
The Foggy Dew has been recorded by several leading Irish performers. It is perhaps most widely associated with The Wolfe Tones. Other notable recordings include those by The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, The Young Dubliners, Shane MacGowan and many more.
Sinead O’Connor also recorded a slow, beautifully haunting version of the song with The Chieftains.
Recordings of Banks of Moorlough Shore
Sinead O’Connor has also recorded the Moorlough Shore, which uses the same melody as The Foggy Dew but has completely different lyrics. Caroline Lavalle and the the Irish pop group, The Corrs, have also recorded the song.
Click through to our series of readable articles on the Easter Rising to find out more.