Peadar Kearney, 1916 Irish Rising

Peadar Kearney, 1916 Irish Rising, Peadar Ó Cearnaígh, Amhrán na bhFiann, Abbey Theatre, Brendan Behan, Irish Writers, Irish Music


Peadar Kearney (Gaelic: Peadar Ó Cearnaígh); was born on the 12th December 1883 and died on the 24th of November 1942, Peadar was an Irish republican and composer of numerous rebel songs. In 1907 he wrote the lyrics to “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann”), now the official national anthem of the Irish Republic.

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Peadar Ó Cearnaigh (1883-1942) was a house-painter by trade and a teacher in the early Gaelic League, where his students included Sean O’Casey.  He joined the IRB in 1903 and became a member of its Supreme Council. In 1903 he met the musician Patrick Heeney, and together they composed The Soldier’s Song about 1909-10.  It was often sung at Republican gatherings, especially after the formation of the Volunteers. The Soldier’s Song was later adopted as Ireland’s National Anthem.  A friend of Michael Collins, Kearney fought with the Jacob’s garrison in the 1916 Rising. He wrote many other well-known ballads, including The Bold Fenian Men and The Tri-Coloured Ribbon. (The quotation in Behan’s inscription – ‘We may have good men, but we’ll never have better’ – is from Peadar Ó Cearnaigh’s song The Bold Fenian Men). Seamus de Burca’s biography is based on Ó Cearnaigh’s uncompleted autobiography.

The Soldier’s Song and Other Poems was published in 1928. Peadar Kearney was the maternal uncle of Brendan Behan, one of Ireland’s best known writers.

Here we can see an exclusive picture of what appears to be Peadar Kearney’s personal copy of The Soldier’s Song and Other Poems, in which he has placed his own picture, personal inscription and news-paper archives relating to the publication of The Soldier’s Song and Other Poems (Dublin Independent May 14th 1928), the death of John Furlong (aged 30 years) an Irish Volunteer and Brother-in-Law of Peadar Kearney and a final newspaper article inside the back cover titled, “Whack FOL-!”, ‘ What an American Journalist Heard this side’, this article while not referenced appears to be from the Independent when its font is compared with the opening article pasted in on the front of the book. This final article is a humorous piece relating to Irish songs that might or might not be viewed as seditious to the British Crown.



So important is Peadar Kearney to Irish history that in April 2012 Peadar Kearney the Composer of Ireland’s national anthem, and Edward Hollywood, the man who created the first Irish tricolour, were remembered at a ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of Ireland’s republican sons and daughters.

Arts minister Jimmy Deenihan attended the ceremony to honour Peadar Kearney and Edward Hollywood, who are both interred at the cemetery. A lone Irish Army piper played a lament in honour of the two men, while wreathes were laid at their graves, this ceremony was a mature state recognising those sons who had laid its foundation stones.

Hollywood, born in 1814, was a silk weaver from the Liberties who travelled to Paris as part of an Irish delegation to the second French Republican government in 1848, where he was inspired by the French tri-colour to create an Irish equivalent.

His republican tri-colour – featuring green to represent the Gaelic tradition (Catholic), orange to represent the followers of William of Orange (Protestant), and white to represent peace between them – was later adopted as the flag of the Irish Republic in 1919 and by the Irish Free State which succeed it in 1922.

Kearney, born in 1883, was a personal friend of Michael Collins and the composer of numerous rebel songs and wrote the lyrics to ‘The Soldiers Song’ (in English) in 1907. The Free State adopted an unofficial Irish translation, Amhrán na bhFiann, as the national anthem in 1926.

Glasnevin Cemetery is a place of great significance in relation to the history of the Irish Republic and the Glasnevin Trust is a tireless body of people who ensure the proper care of our sleeping sons and daughters, while also ensuring that the history of Ireland and the people of Ireland are remembered with dignity and respect. This ceremony celebrating the lives of two of Ireland’s greatest sons was also attended by John Green, Chairman of Glasnevin Trust and George McCullough, the chief executive of the Glasnevin Trust.

Kearney was born at 68 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin in 1883, he often walked along Gardiner Street to the Custom House and along the Quays. His father was from Louth and his mother was originally from Meath. He was educated at the Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and St Joseph’s Christian Brothers School in Fairview, Dublin. He left school at the age of 14, becoming an apprentice house painter.

Kearney joined the Gaelic League in 1901, and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1903. He taught night classes in Irish and numbered Sean O’Casey among his pupils. He found work with the National Theatre Society and in 1904 was one of the first to inspect the derelict building that became the Abbey Theatre, which opened its doors on 27 December of that year. He assisted with props and performed occasional walk-on parts at the Abbey until 1916.

Kearney was a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He took part in the Howth and Kilcoole gun runnings in 1914. In the Easter Rising of 1916 Kearney fought at Jacob’s biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh, abandoning an Abbey Theatre tour in England in order to take part in the Rising. He escaped before the garrison was taken into custody.

He was active in the War of Independence. On 25 November 1920 he was captured at his home in Summerhill, Dublin and was interned first in Collinstown Camp in Dublin and later in Ballykinler Camp in County Down.

A personal friend of Michael Collins, Kearney at first took the Free State side in the Civil War but lost faith in the Free State after Collins’s death. He took no further part in politics, returning to his original trade of house painting. Kearney died in relative poverty in Inchicore in 1942.

He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. He was survived by his wife Eva and two sons, Pearse and Con.

Kearney’s songs were highly popular with the Volunteers (which later became the IRA) in the 1913-22 period. Most popular was “The Soldier’s Song”. Kearney penned the original English lyrics in 1907 and his friend and musical collaborator Patrick Heeney composed the music. The lyrics were published in 1912 and the music in 1916. In 1926, four years after the formation of the Free State, the Irish translation, “Amhrán na bhFiann”, was adopted as the national anthem, replacing God Save Ireland. Kearney was not paid royalties for his contribution to the song, although the original handwritten lyrics would sell for €760,000 many decades after his death.

Other well-known songs by Kearney include “Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men)”, “The Tri-coloured Ribbon”, “Down by the Liffey Side”, “Knockcroghery” (about the village of Knockcroghery) and “Erin Go Bragh” (Erin Go Bragh was the text on the Irish national flag before the adoption of the tricolour).

Kearney’s sister Kathleen was the mother of Irish writers Brendan Behan and Dominic Behan, both of whom were also republicans and songwriters. Brendan Behan was in prison when Kearney died, and was refused permission to attend his funeral. In a letter to Kearney’s son, Pearse, he said, “my Uncle Peadar was the one, outside my own parents, who excited the admiration and love that is friendship.”

In 1957 his nephew Seamus de Burca (or Jimmy Bourke son of Kearney’s sister, Margaret) published a biography of Kearney, The Soldier’s Song: The Story of Peadar Ó Cearnaigh. In 1976 De Burca also published Kearney’s letters to his wife written during his internment in 1921 were published as My Dear Eva … Letters from Ballykinlar Internment Camp, 1921. A wall plaque on the west side of Dorset Street commemorates his birth there.

Peadar Kearney was born and educated in Dublin where he worked as a labourer while composing songs, poetry and plays. Kearney was working backstage at the Abbey Theatre when he composed the lyrics of Amhrán na bhFiann/ The Soldier’s Song and, together with Patrick Heeny, set it to music. The song was first published in Irish Freedom in 1912 and quickly became the most popular of the Irish Volunteer’s marching songs.

In 1920 Kearney was interned for a year in Ballykinlar Internment Camp, County Down. In 1926 Amhrán na bhFiann/ The Soldier’s Song was adopted as the National Anthem of Ireland. Kearney’s The Soldier’s Song and Other Poems was published in 1928. Peadar Kearney was the maternal uncle of Brendan Behan.

Peadar Kearney (1883-1942)

Amhrán na bhFiann

Seo dhíbh, a chairde, duan óglaigh,

Cathréimeach, bríomar, ceolmhar,

Ar dtinte cnámh go buacach táid,

‘s an spéir go min réaltógach.

Is fonnmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo,

‘S go tiúnmhar glé roimh thíocht don ló,

Faoi chiúas caomh na hoíche ar seol,

Seo libh, canaig Amhrán na bhFiann.


Sinne laochra Fáil, a tá faoi gheallag Éireann,

Buion dár slua thar toinn do ráinig chugainn,

Faoi mhóid bheith saor.

Sean tír ár sinsear feasta,

Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin thráill.

Anocht a théam sa bhear na baoil,

Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil,

Le guna scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,

Seo libh canáig amhrán na bhFiann.


Cois bánta reidhe, ar arda sléibhe

Ba bhuach ár sinsear romhainn,

Ag lámhach go tréan fa’n sár-bhrat sein,

Atá thuas sa ghaoith go seolta:

Ba dhúchas riamh d’ar gcine cháidh

Gan iompáil siar ó imirt air,

‘Siul libh canaig Amhrán na bhFiann.


A Bhuíon nach fann d’fhuil Gaeil is Gall,

Sinn breachadh lae na saoirse,

Tá scéimhle ‘s scanradh i gcroíthr namhad,

Roimh ranganna laochra ár dtíre;

Ar dtínte is tréith gan spréach anois,

Sin luisne ghlé san spéir anoir,

‘S an bíobha i raon na bpiléar agaibh:

Seo libh, canaig Amhrán na bhFiann.


The Soldier’s Song

We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song,

With cheering, rousing chorus,

As round the blazing fires we throng

The starry heavens o’er us,

Impatient for the coming fight,

And as we wait the morning light,

Here in the silence of the night,

We’ll chant the Soldier’s Song.


Soldier’s 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 sireland,

Shall shelter the despot or the slave.

Tonight we man the ‘bear na baoil’,*

In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,

‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifles peal,

We’ll sing a soldier’s song.


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 the children of a fighting race,

That never yet has known disgrace,

And as we march the foe to face,

We’ll chant the Soldier’s Song.


Sons of the Gael, men of the Pale,

The long watched day is breaking,

The serried ranks of Inishfail**

Shall set the tyrant quaking,

Our camp fires now are burning low -

See in the east the silvery glow,

Out yonder waits the Saxon foe,

Then chant the Soldier’s Song.

*Bear na baoil – means gap of danger.

*Inishfail – means the island of Fál’s high plain; Fál was a legendary King of Ireland hence Inishfail denotes Ireland.

Original hand written Soldiers Song

IRELAND’S NATIONAL ANTHEM Amhran na bhFiann O’Cearnaigh (Peadar), Peadar Kearney, The earliest Autograph Manuscript of the National Anthem. A folded page probably from a copy-book, bearing the text of A Soldier’s Song by Peadar O’Cearnaigh, written in pencil on both sides of the page in his autograph manuscript throughout, with his signature in Gaelic letters written several times in ink; and with the music written in pencil in tonic sol-fa on a separate sheet, possibly in another hand. Fold marks, worn but intact, with a manuscript letter of provenance written and signed by Seamus de Burca of Dublin (biographer and nephew of Peadar O’Cearnaigh), dated 10 March 2000. Peadar O’Cearnaigh (1883-1942) was undoubtedly the most influential Irish song-writer since Thomas Moore. Many of his songs, such as ”Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men)” and ”The Tri-coloured Ribbon,” have entered the popular tradition, to such an extent that they are sometimes mistakenly regarded as traditional in origin. He came of a notable family; Brendan Behan’s mother Kate Kearney was his sister. He was a life-long Republican, though not a narrow one.

He taught Irish in the Gaelic League, where his students included the young Sean O’Casey, and he worked as a props-man in the early Abbey Theatre, where his friend Nellie Bushell was a receptionist. He joined the IRB in 1903, became a member of its Supreme Council, and was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers. In Easter Week he fought in Jacob’s Factory, escaping capture afterwards, but was interned in Ballykinlar in 1920-21. He was a friend of Michael Collins and many others. The words of ”A Soldier’s Song” were written in 1907, when Peadar felt that the national clubs which were burgeoning at the time needed a rousing marching tune. As was his habit, Peadar worked on the song for a while with his musical collaborator Paddy Heeney, until Paddy produced a tune that seemed to fit. In his biography of Peadar O’Cearnaigh, Seamus de Burca describes how Peadar’s friend Nellie Bushell possessed ‘a manuscript copy of The Soldier’s Song which she took down from the lips of the author on the very night the words and music were wedded.’ This is the earliest reference to the present manuscript, whose provenance derives directly from Nellie Bushell. In later references De Burca states the handwriting is O’Cearnaigh’s. We have compared the manuscript with other attested documents written by Peadar O’Cearnaigh, and there is no doubt that the words of the song are in O’Cearnaigh’s very distinctive hand. Presumably the description of Nellie ‘taking it down’ refers to the music, which she may have written down from Peadar’s singing.

Neillie was a good friend, who shared Peadar’s politics as well as his interest in theatre. Seamus de Burca’s biography describes how she helped him escape arrest after the Rising by providing shelter and fresh clothes. A Soldier’s Song gradually became popular in national circles. The words were published in the IRB’s newspaper ”Irish Freedom” in 1912, and when the Irish Volunteers began in 1913, it soon became their marching song. Liam O’Briain, in his memoirs, describes how some two thousand marching Volunteers broke into A Soldier’s Song, sending an electric current coursing through his veins. It was the anthem of the independence movement, long before it was officially selected by the politicians. The present manuscript, worn and faded though it be, is a unique memento of the days when Irish Independence was just an aspiration held by a few: the earliest autograph manuscript of the National Anthem. Provenance: The author to Nellie Bushell, to Micheal O hAodha (director of the Abbey Theatre), to De Burca Rare Books, to the present vendor. An inscribed copy of Seamus de Burca’s biography of Peadar Kearney was included with the lot which sold for €760,000.

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