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|These lyrics deal with the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916. It is an appeal for Irishmen to fight for their freedom rather than fight for the English in foreign wars.
In Songs of the County Down, by Cathal O'Doyle, the author is given as Canon Charles O'Neill, a parish priest of Kilcoo and later of Newcastle. "In 1919 he went to Dublin and attended a sitting of the first Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament). He was moved by the number of members whose names were answered during roll call by "faoi ghlas ag na Gaill" (locked up by the foreigners) and resolved to write a song in commemoration of the Easter Rebellion." The music is from a manuscript that was in the possession of Kathleen Dallat of Ballycastle. That manuscript gives Carl Hardebeck as the arranger. It was recorded in 1913 by John McCormack.*
Suvla was a battleground in the Middle East. The term "wild geese" originated with Irish soldiers who fought with King James against William of Orange. Patrick Pearse was a leader of the Uprising and Eamon de Valera was another leader who later became prime minister. (See links below for additional information).
'Twas down by the glen one Easter morn,
To a city fair rode I,
When Ireland's lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by,
No pipe did hum and no battle drum
Did sound its dread tattoo.
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey's swell
Ran out in the foggy dew.
Right proudly high over Dublin town
They hung out a flag of war;
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sudel Bar.
and from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through,
While Britannia's sons with their long ranging guns
Sailed in from the foggy dew.
'Twas England bade our wild geese go
That small nations might be free;
Their lonely graves are by Suvla's waves
On the fringe of the grey North Sea.
But had they died by Pearse's side
Or fought with Valera true,
Their graves we'd keep where the Fenians sleep,
'Neath the hills of the foggy dew.
The braves fell, and the solemn bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide
In the springing of the year.
And the world did gaze in deep amaze
At those fearless men and true
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the foggy dew.
The Irish Songbook
See Bibliography for full information.
Some information from the Encyclopedia Britannica
*And a thread at Digital Tradition.