The History Show

The History Show

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WWI Ireland's Experience: Episode 4 - broadcast 24 August 2014

Ireland's Experience: Episode 4 - Songs for a Lost Generation

Ireland's Experience: Episode 4 - Songs for a Lost Generation

No other war had such an immediate influence on popular music.

In this special episode, singer Declan O'Rourke played a selection of songs to remember the young men who died in World War 1.

Eric Bogle, who wrote the songs The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Green Fields of France joined us from Adelaide, Australia.

UCD historian, Paul Rouse told the stories connected to the songs and put them into historican context for us.

The songs featured on this programme are folk and protest songs but aren’t they also about remembrance and a reminder of the dangers of glorifying war



The Foggy Dew

In the first two years of World War One, our focus here was very much on that war. But then, the Easter Rising changed everything.  The Foggy Dew was written by Cannon Charles O’Neill in 1919.

It’s a song from before the war to which a verse seems to have been added telling the story of the men going to fight in the Rising

“twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sed el Barr’


In addition to being an anti-recruiting song, the final verse of Salonica predicts the ultimate triumph of Sinn Fein (it may have been added after the other verses).     But this song reinforces the realisation of Tom Kettle that, as he put it himself, the leaders of the 1916 Rising would be honoured as true Irishman and he would be remembered, if at all, as a British soldier.


The Green Fields of France

Eric Bogle talked about how a visit to the war graves in France inspired him to write this song.


This song started off as a poem by Joyce Kilmer.   It deals with America entering World War One in 1917.

The American volunteer army that arrived in France in 1917 had a generous sprinkling of Irish soldiers.   Most of them were concentrated in the 165th Infantry Regiment.  Not that the members of the 165th set much store by that particular name. As far as they were concerned they were the 69th New York State Militia - the famous ‘Fighting 69th’.

One of the most celebrated members of the 69th was Joyce Kilmer, already an established American poet before he travelled to France. He was a Sergeant in the 69th. He was offered training as an officer. He could have left the battalion but instead chose to travel to Europe with the 69th as a non-commissioned officer. In 1918 he was killed by a German sniper. Five years earlier he had written his best known poem in a volume called Trees. In 1922 it was set to music by Oscar Rasbach.


The Recruiting Sergeant

The Recruiting Sergeant was written by Seamus O’Farrell who was a journalist and a committed nationalist activist. Coincidentally his mother was a cleaner in Dublin Castle and was one of the last people to see the Irish Crown Jewels intact before they were stolen in 1917.

The protagonist in the song is approached by a recruiting sergeant to join up, he strings him along before telling him that Englishmen should fight their own fights – there is fighting to be done in Ireland rather than in Picardy.

Under the Defence of the Realm Act, it was an offence to write or sing any anti-recruitment songs during World War 1.



Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

The sentiments expressed in this song could apply to any nation at war at any point in our history.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone was played at the funeral of Harry Patch in August, 2009. He was the last surviving British veteran of World War One.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle wrote The Band Played Waltzing Matilda in 1971. It tells the story of a young man who joined up to fight for the Australians – with disastrous consequences.  But it really is a universal song – the dusty outback could as easily be the rolling green hills of Ireland.

This song deals with Gallipoli but what’s often ignored is the number of Irish who fought in Gallipoli.  The Suvla Bay in the song is where the Royal Dublin Fusiliers fought. 

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda has been named as one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time.

 The History Show would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Reconciliation Fund.




Historian, Paul Rouse talks about the origins of this song. Declan O'Rourke performs live.

Green Fields Of France

Eric Bogle on why he wrote this song - and it about any particular Willie McBride? Declan O'Rourke performs live.


Historian, Paul Rouse on the origins of this song written by American poet, Joyce Kilmer. And also, America's entry into WW1. Declan O'Rourke performs live.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

This anti-war song was written by Pete Seeger in 1955 and was played at the funeral of Harry Patch in 2009. He was the last surviving veteran of WW1. Eric Bogle talks about what it means to him. Declan O'Rourke performs live.

Silent Night Christmas 1915

This song was written by Cormac MacConnell about the Christmas 1914 truce on the Front. Historian, Paul Rouse explains the background. Declan O'Rourke performs live.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle talks about why he wrote this song. Declan O'Rourke performs live.

Scenes from the First World War 18-22 August 2014

Scenes from  the First World War

18-22 August 2014

A selection of archive voices, letters, diaries, poems, songs and stories, featuring special reports on different aspects of the war and Ireland's involvement in it.

You can hear these one minute pieces played each weekday throughout the month of August on RTE Radio One around the hours of 7am, 9am, 11am, 3pm and 7pm. A compilation of the week's pieces is also available as a podcast.

This week’s contributors:

WW1 veterans - RTE archives

Sadbh Burt Fitzgerald

Jeff Kildea

Paul Rouse

Joe Harbison

Gerry McArdle

Sean Beatty

Martina Relihan

Ann Kelly

Noel Wade

Gillian McIntosh

Kiara Murphy

Mary Higgins

Patricia Byrne


Coming up next week......

Episode 5: The Aftermath

To be broadcast on Sunday 31 August

Thousands never returned home to their loved ones after an armistice was declared on the 11th of November, 1918.

Those who did survive arrived back to a very different Ireland to the one that existed in 1914 when war broke out. It was a divided country, bracing itself for conflict as Sinn Fein triumphed in the 1918 general election and vowed to establish their own parliament in Dublin.

We'll be looking at the brutal legacy of the war, from the traumatized victims of shell shock to bereaved families of fallen soldiers. The stories of the veterans, the reception they received when they returned to Ireland, and their involvement in the country’s struggle for independence. And, the different ways we remember and commemorate the war.

About The Show

Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past.

We want to help explain ourselves to ourselves. We will search out fresh angles on familiar topics, seek out the unfamiliar and will not shy away from bizarre or controversial issues. Our ultimate goal is to make The History Show the primary port of call for those with an intense or even a modest interest in the subject. We want to entice the casual and the curious to join us in celebrating the past.

Our aim is to create informative, reflective, stimulating and above all, entertaining radio.

Join us on Sundays from 6.05pm for The History Show with Myles Dungan on RTÉ Radio 1.



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Presenter: Myles Dungan

Producer: Alan Torney


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