Exploring History through Song

Name of Song: Fields of Athenry

Who composed it? Pete St. John

What year was it written? 1979

What is it about?

It was a song set in famine times. It was a song about the loneliness and hunger that was in Ireland at that time. It was a song about a man called Michael send to a prison in Botney Bay all the way over in Australia. Michael keeps singing about the old country, Mary, that’s all that’s left on his mind was the west of Ireland. Then he hits Botney Bay and thinks of the whole of Ireland because the crown has taken it away from his eyes each Day.

Fields of Athenry

But a lonely prison wall,
I heard a young girl calling
Michael they have taken you away,
For you stole trevelyn’s corn
So the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay

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,
Its so lonely round the Fields of Athenry

Name of Song: Four Green Fields

Who composed it? Tommy Makim

What year was it written? 1967

What is it about?

It’s about Ireland. The Old Woman is Ireland.

She’s talking about her 4 Sons, which are the four provinces. It’s a song of Hope where her Sons have fought to get the 4th Province back to Irelands rule.

Even though they failed their Sons will keep on the fight and eventually the 4 will be back together.

Four Green Fields

What do I have, said the fine old woman
What do I have, this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I have fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels
They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she

Long time ago, said the fine old woman
Long time ago, this proud old woman did say
There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she

Name of Song: Grace

Who composed it? Sean and Frank O’ Meara

When was it written? 1985

What is it about?

This song is about Joseph Mary Plunkett being in prison for his part in the 1916 rising. He is writing about his love Grace Gifford who he married in May 1916 in the prison the day before he was executed in Kilmainham jail.


As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Gaol,
I think about these past few days, oh, will they say we’ve failed?
From our school days, they have told us we must yearn for liberty,
Yet, all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me.

Oh, Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger,
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die.
With all my love, I place this wedding ring upon your finger,
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say good-bye.

Name of Song: The Minstrel Boy

Who Composed it? Thomas Moore

What year was it written? 1800s

What is it about?

It is about a young man who goes off to fight for Irish freedom with his harp and sword.

When he falls in battle he destroys the harp so that it doesn’t get into the hands of the enemy.

It is a song that is now used as a marching song for lots of military parades and at special events all over the world.

The Minstrel Boy

The minstrel boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you’ll find him
His father’s sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him

“Land of Song!” cried the warrior bard
(Should) “Tho’ all the world betrays thee
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

by Paul Gibbons, Angela Cross, Rose Swan, Linda Leavey, Rita O’ Neill.

Worksheet: Exploring History through Song

Worksheet: Exploring History through Song

Name the 4 songs mentioned in the article?





What is the oldest song and what is the youngest song?


Who is the song Grace about?


The song Four Green Fields is about the 4 provinces of Ireland. Can you name them?


How many words can you find in the word KILMAINHAM?


What is your favourite song? What is it about?