06 January 2016

We'll chant a soldier's song, shouting "Lager, lager, lager, lager". Shouting.

Soldiers are they, coming from a land beyond the wave. Probably Lebanon. Home for Crimbo.
Rathgar Road, Dublin, 9th October, 2015
This Easter I will mostly be... seeing Underworld.

I have already bought my tickets for their Roundhouse gig and have their seventh studio album, Barbara Barbara, on order. While this is mostly because I am a die-hard fan, the pleasant side-effect of this is that I will not be in Ireland for Easter weekend this year, the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

Wandering around London this November you were surrounded by the omni-present red plastic poppies worn to remember the fallen soldiers of World War One. For one month it is the British equivalent of the stars n'stripes lapel pin worn by all American politicians, to be seen out without one is to invite open condemnation from strangers. All proceeds from the sale of these plastic poppies goes to the British Legion, a charity that supports current UK veterans. For many, including myself, it is an active symbol of militarism and aggression, and some chose to wear a white poppy instead to honour pacifism.

Not being English, I wear neither poppy and go about my business as normal, but having talked with a few people I have come to realise that the concept of pacifism is bewilderingly alien to many. It seems easier to accept the idea of pacifism when it stems from a religious dimension, like the pacifism of Quakers, but for atheists and agnostics of various stripes there is less respect for a commitment to non-violence. It's as if adhering to a religious doctrine is acceptable, but a rational decision based on one's own judgement is not.

With an election coming up in Ireland (most likely) in the next eight weeks, it's probably safe to say that regardless of who is in office the commemorations for 1916 will be worse than The Gathering, with all sides in modern Ireland laying claim to the ghosts of Easter past, puffing out their chests and loudly proclaiming to be the true guardians of our glorious revolutionary failures. The talk will be of revolutionaries and martyrs, of bullets and bombs, of violent resistance and armed struggle. There will be marches down streets and much playing of anthems, and oh what an anthem it is that we have:
Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient sire land,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the gap of danger
In Erin's cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon's roar and rifles' peal,
We'll chant a soldier's song
So goes the chorus, the part we're most familiar with. The second, rarely sung verse, is where the true poetry kicks in:
In valley green, on towering crag,
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered 'neath the same old flag
That's proudly floating o'er us.
We're children of a fighting race,
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march, the foe to face,
We'll chant a soldier's song.
"Children of a fighting race" indeed, and whoever thinks we have never yet known disgrace hasn't really been following the news these last few years. The irony here is that we learn the anthem in primary school, in Irish. We sing the anthem normally in Irish and, like most rote-learned Irish, the actual words are almost meaningless to us, we mouth the sounds without truly understanding the language behind them.

I can't sing the words. I have a problem in general with any form of nationalism, flag-waving anthem-singing types especially, but the words of our anthem, the words of A Soldier's Song and the actions they glorify, are especially grating. And for the next three months until Easter the great-grandchildren of a fighting race will be waving their flags up and down the length of the country celebrating century-dead martyrs and the violence they unleashed.

If we, as a nation, wanted to do something truly memorable to commemorate the blood shed during Ireland's birth, we could change the words of the anthem, or throw it away altogether. We could say that now, a hundred years later, violence and bloodshed are no longer our tools, no longer traits to be commemorated and praised. They are a part of our history that we acknowledge but do not celebrate as we have grown beyond the barbaric in these last one hundred years.

And if I can't manage to explain all that when someone asks why I'm running away to Underworld this Easter, maybe I'll just tell them I'm a Quaker.

It's probably easier.

(also, if we do chuck it away, under no circumstances can we replace it with that rugby song. Nope. Just no.)

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