Irish Football Supporters Singing About Famine In The Land of The Holocaust

GDANSK, JUNE 2012.  Spain beat Ireland 4-0 in a display of uplifting virtuosity, the sort of performance that makes even cynics like me call it the beautiful game once again.  And yet, despite their sporting humiliation, the Irish crowd continued to sing the Fields of Athenry for hours and hours and hours after the final whistle.

You stole Trevelyan’s corn, they chanted to their baffled Polish hosts, in a bizarre and unintended irony, since most of those singing had never heard of Trevelyan nor knew who he was, never mind understanding the significance of the corn, which wasn’t really his anyway, except metaphorically.

Why irony?  Simple.  This is a song about a catastrophe in the history of the Irish —  the Great Famine, our Shoah, which saw a million die of starvation and another million leave the country forever in conditions of the direst misery.  Why  do football supporters sing this song?  Why do Munster supporters sing it?  I don’t know.  Do they simply not listen to the words?

The Famine ruined us for generations, creating the circumstances by which yet another abusive clique, the Catholic church,  managed to get us under its heel, but let’s put even this most repellent calamity in perspective.  The Irish supporters were singing The Fields in a country that has been overrun both by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Stalin’s Red Army, a country crushed under the oppression of the Soviet Union for another fifty years until the shipyard workers revolted and said No more.  Where did Lech Walesa make his iconic stand against Jaruselski’s communist regime, delivering his address of defiance from a forklift?  Gdansk, that’s where.  The very same place Ireland played Spain and lost 4-0.  The city in which our green-clad gladiators were proudly singing about Trevelyan’s corn, even though they had not the slightest notion what it was.

Even more compelling and redolent of recent history, Poland is the country in which Germany built its most devastating murder factories: Sobibor, Belzec,  Maidanek, Soldau, Warsaw, Auschwitz, Chelmno and Treblinka.  It was in these places that millions upon millions of Jews and other undesirables were murdered, wiping out a central-European culture, extinguishing an entire intelligentsia on the orders of drab, unexceptional little men like Heinrich Hmmler, following the Wannsee conference.

When you find yourself in Poland, Latvia, Germany, Holland, Denmark, the Czech Republic or any of the former Yugoslavian states, you realise that violent history is in the memory of any middle-aged or elderly person you might greet in a coffee shop.  And yes, I know that we too have a violent history.  I understand that we have the right to be angry about the things that were done to our ancestors and by extension to us, but nobody in Ireland has seen the sort of thing inflicted on Poland by Blitzkrieg, by the Waffen SS or by the Red Army in its advance across Europe as German forces fell back.  The mass murders, the mass-rapes, the bombardments, the starvation, the gassings.

We simply have no idea what these horrors were like but Poles do.

Their fathers, their mothers, their grandfathers, their grandmothers experienced at first hand what these things mean.

Am I trying to diminish the Irish famine?  Certainly not.  Our ancestors were treated brutally.   They were starved off their lands and forced onto the disease-ridden emigrant ships.  This country was raped for profit, but none of that is my point.  We continue to deal with the seismic social impact of the Famine 170 years later, and we continue to sift truth from fiction, as every survivor of an atrocity must, but by now, our Shoah is at a remove, while that of central Europe certainly is not.  The wounds are raw.

Am I trying to absolve the Poles of blame?  No.  Jewish survivors of the camps were murdered by Polish neighbours when they returned from Hell and tried to reclaim their homes, just as Irish people were beaten down by their fellow countrymen in desperate times.  This happens and it is not good.  Nobody has any business feeling superior in the dirty business of war or famine.

About Ireland, yes, we have been treated harshly, brutally, and yes there was at  the very least a collusion between the authorities and the landlord classes, but this was far from unique throughout Europe.  We are not unique.  I realise there’s no league-table of atrocity, and if anyone had to explain the words of The Fields to a well-informed Pole, I suspect they’d get a short answer.  You’re singing about something that happened a century and a half ago?  Do you not realise where you are now?  Have you not heard of Maidanek?  Sobibor? Oswiecim? Treblinka?  Stutthof?

That’s the problem with insularity.  We tend to think that we are the centre of the world and that nobody’s suffering can possibly match ours.  Isn’t it about time we got over our feelings of oppression?  It’s a long time since any jackboot stood on us, but despite that, we still seem capable of making a gigantic mess.  If we could overcome this idea that our grievances and tragedies are unique, then maybe we could also overcome the idea that we exist in some sense outside Europe, in an untouchable Celtic bubble of post-oppression blamelessness, and start to grow up for ourselves.

Clearly, the craven attitude of our prime minister in his approach to his European betters is a sign that we haven’t quite evolved that far, which is a pity, considering the drastic state of our affairs.   Meanwhile, some of our leaders have weightier things on their minds.  A Mayo Fine Gael TD, Michelle Mulherrin,  who recently came to prominence with comments about fornication, will introduce a motion at next weeks FG parliamentary party meeting urging a change of Dáil rules.

Is this a change to make sure that parliamentarians are better informed?  No.

That they are better advised? No.

That they speak more clearly?  No.

That they stop droning from notes and say what’s on their minds?  No.

That they learn to speak clear English?  No.

That they have a better basic education?  No.

Well, what is it then?

I’ll tell you.  Michelle Mulherrin’s groundbreaking proposal is that Dáil deputies should wear better clothes.  She doesn’t think t-shirts and jeans are suitable attire for our august parliament.

Just as well Michelle doesn’t run Google, Microsoft or Apple then, but wait.  What am I talking about?  Michelle is a government backbencher.  They don’t run anything.   They are, however, a useful barometer of how narrow our national outlook is, and I’m grateful to Michelle for illustrating the stultifying confines of our national vision.  Never mind how intelligent or capable a legislator is.  Focus instead on what he wears and force him to dress according to the standards you personally consider appropriate.

In a peculiar way, that attitude is not a million miles away from singing the Fields of Athenry in Poland.  Both are obsessed with a small, narrow, local vision, both completely miss the point, and both are utterly irrelevant.


65 thoughts on “Irish Football Supporters Singing About Famine In The Land of The Holocaust

  1. “In a peculiar way, that attitude is not a million miles away from singing the Fields of Athenry in Poland. Both are obsessed with a small, narrow, local vision, both completely miss the point, and both are utterly irrelevant.”

    As always Bock, nail… head, unfortunately, also, as always, point completely lost on the majority of Irish people.

  2. Thats a fantastic post,best in a long time. Let Fonsie call you an eejit or fuckwit after that.

  3. It’s catchy and Irish, I suspect that’s why it is sung so much at sporting events. Nothing more, nothing less. Big deal.

  4. Great post! You articulated something that I have failed many times to express properly, both at home and in the pub. I Just finished reading Max Hastings book All Hell let Loose:The World at War 1939-1945. It is probably the best single volume history of the second world war and I think this is because it conveys the extent of the suffering involved. I would recommend it.

  5. “…..Jews and other undesirables…..” : bad arrangement of words. I presume you don’t mean the way it reads; otherwise an excellent post

  6. It’s kind of like one of those songs they make you sing at choir practice in primary school.. like – ‘aaaaaave maaaaaria gratia plena dominus tecum benedicta tu’ over and over again, and you ready to pass out from the excruciating tedium of it and the priest and the nun sitting there with their evil smiles, slightly feeling each other up and down saying ‘one more time’ over and over and over.
    And then you have the knuckleheads in Poland singing that kind of shite by choice. I guess they are soccer fans.

  7. Michelle would do better to focus on more important things, but she does have a point.Mick Wallace and ” Ming” are no different than any other lot in the Dail. Look at us were different,no your not. Chic shabby might fool some people, but I don’t think it has fooled the majority. A song is a song Bock. People clap hands and dance to songs about suicide and various disasters, so what is different about the Fields of Athenry apart from the fact that it happened a long time ago. As you suggested in a recent post, people don’t listen to words of songs, even when they are about dire subjects. It reminds me that when I complain about the words of songs today not making any sense, my daughters remind me of songs like Doo Wah Diddy Diddy Doo Wah in my hayday. Conversation gets closed very quickly.

  8. I listen carefully to the words of songs and so do many others. They’re important, and that’s why I write about it. The people who don’t care what the lyrics say won’t care what I say either and that’s fine. This post is aimed at those who do care.

    Ironically, most of the same supporters have not the slightest idea what the words of Amhrán na bhFiann mean either.

    By the way, when people slag shit like Doo Wah Diddy, you could point out that 1964 was the year the Stones released their first album, Dylan his fourth and Simon and Garfunkel released Wednesday Morning.

  9. On a related point. I believe Seanie Fitzpatrick is over in Poland with the Irish supporters enjoying himself. Why haven’t any of them kicked the shit out of him yet?

  10. Yep, if the Irish soccer fans were proper football supporters, Seanie would have had his head kicked in by now. Leprechaun dressing morons with their plastic hammers, they should piss off back to their rugby games.

  11. I liked the Stones,Dylan,Simon and Garfunkel and so on,but for some reason I was very picky about what the Beatles wrote and sung.I must have been the odd one out.By the way have you ever tried to argue three women/daughters?I will let you in on a secret you won’t win.

  12. I’m not sure I get this post..
    In what way is the song ‘The fields of Athenry’ not appropriate for sports fans to be singing exactly?
    Why is it presumed they don’t know what the lyrics mean?

    I don’t really think any Polish fans would have been baffled by the song.. it’s not about them or anything to do with their history.

    It’s a tedious fucking song all right, but I just don’t get this post.. sorry.

  13. The amount of dolly birds showing up at the Euros waiting for their chance to get on camera, and then either acting all shy, pretending that they don’t know it’s on them, or pissed off that it is actually on them, is well fecking annoying, and gone the same way as the dolly birds you would see lining out at rugby matches to be seen……………

    T’would be more in their line to be at home with the dinner waiting. ; )

  14. “That’s all right. I don’t expect you to get everything.”

    Ah ok.. that’s grand so.
    All the stuff that puzzles me in future, I shall think of those lines.

    Barry, lose that hattitude.
    You’re not going to have any woman at home with the dinner waiting. You might have a size 7 stiletto heel up the backside waiting maybe.. at 3 in the morning. ha ha
    And it’s very unbecoming of you to refer to female sports fan as dolly birds. It’s very indicative of misogynistic tendencies. Are you a misogynist Barry? You’ve come to the right place! ha

  15. Of course, I wouldn’t mind being beside said dolly birds with an auld “she’s with me lads” type of wink…………

  16. In that case Barry.. my suggestion to you would be to work on your charm.
    And do not under any circumstances call a woman a dolly bird.. to her face at least. k. :) And forget the dinner waiting business. Not gonna happen.

    You’re welcome.

  17. Westlife should be forced to release it as a single. Maybe then it might not be cool anymore to sing it anymore. I really have no idea how to stop this drivel being sung anywhere !! Maybe make it a crime to sing it …..shit, that wouldbe a waste of time also.

  18. I was at the game in question and contributed, along with my husband and sons, to the singing of this particular song. It was nothing more than the banding together of Irish people in the face of a shite result. The singing came on us earlier after the official news that a certain football club in Scotland was officially no more. A dead parrot as such. After that it was a party situation for all. Nothing sinister, nothing political, no messages hidden or otherwise. Just Irish people enjoying being Irish and enjoying flying a vocal flag.

  19. Bock (or are you really Roy Keane?), what a ridiculous post that was. Absolutely awful.

  20. Why can’t the Irish people enjoy being Irish by doing something useful – like finding Seanie Fitzpatrick and kicking the crap out of him?

  21. Well Bock I thought it was a good post, and to be honest I don’t get all the backlash about the opening couple of paragraphs…to me, that was just the prologue for the article, to set a bit of context for a much longer point about how we need to grow up, get over ourselves and stop thinking we have a monopoly on suffering. Or maybe I missed the point…

  22. @Cindy – why would Irish football fans be singing about the demise of a certain Scottish football club? What’s that got to do with Ireland Vs Spain?

    We are quick to stick the boot into the Northern Irish fans, we’re pretty much the same…………

  23. Steve — Posts like this confirm my experience that people don’t actually read. They just skim. I never said that the Irish fans shouldn’t be singing — I’ll leave that sort of thing to Roy Keane. All I said was that I think the Field So Fat Henry is unsuitable.

  24. I didn’t realize that Rangers have ceased to exist. Jesus lads, who are you going to spit your sectarian bile at now ?

  25. @Barry.. I think the Fields of Athenry is sung in Scotland.. thanks to Packie Bonner.

  26. Cindy — I’m thinking you haven’t read the comments policy. Make your point without attacking people personally. Show some respect.

  27. I don’t know what the song means, being Canadian I don’t think I’m required to…BUT it sounds awesome at a football match and makes me smile thinking of the Irish. Isn’t that enough? In it’s simplistic form…it is Irish and that is enough for me!

  28. As you said in a recent post Bock(miserable songs we dance to) nobody listens to lyrics,and I am inclined to agree with you,so whats wrong with singing The Fields of Athenry at a football match in Poland where 70% of the crowd would’nt have a clue what it was all about?.

  29. I read the post again.. still don’t get it.
    Another miserable post with a bit of a history lesson thrown in, to show off a few facts that are known, it seems to me.

    We should be this.. we should we that. We need to grow up.
    We shuffle, we mumble.. we can’t talk (on the Mick Wallace post)..
    The Brits are well able to talk.
    Why not feck off to the Brits then.. if you want to be like them?

    It’s depressing Bock.

    This bit –
    “You’re singing about something that happened a century and a half ago? Do you not realise where you are now? Have you not heard of Maidanek? Sobibor? Oswiecim? Treblinka? Stutthof”

    A song about something that happened a century and a half ago… realise where we are now?
    Maidanek? Sobibor? Oswiecim? Treblinka? Stutthof
    – That’s almost 70 years ago. Not now.

    I mean if you want to put down everything Irish.. could you leave out the ‘we’? It certainly doesn’t include me.

    Seriously, I don’t get why you presume the Irish don’t know the lyrics or the meaning of the Fields of Athenry and why it’s not appropriate.
    I’d be very doubtful any Polish people would be baffled by it one iota.

  30. Ah Bock, I think you’re being a bit over the top with the cultural sensitivity there.
    As far as i know the entire territory of Poland is not one great solemn monument to the holocaust, and it’s not like the fans were singing inside the gates of Auschwitz. If it was the Germans singing in Poznan about their own wartime hardships, well then i could see some of your point about it being inappropriate. But the Irish fans were singing a folk song about loss, what’s wrong with that? they werent asking for pity, they were singing for pride. It would have been a poor choice of song if they had been winning, but when facing insurmountable odds, and being punished for it -what else is there but a song about defiance “I rebelled they ran me down”. Love lost, and emigration (Transportation to a penal colony to be accurate), and stolen dreams “we had dreams and songs to sing “.
    Singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ at a football match does in no way equate to insularity, or a lack of appreciation of other peoples history. -Everyone knows full well what the lyrics mean, and I’m full sure that the majority of those fans were singing about a lot more than what was unfolding on the pitch, but it’s not like the irish fans were over there crying about the famine or the penal laws as if it only happened yesterday. Its a Folk song -it encapsulates and expresses shared emotions. the fans got behind the team like they did because as a nation we needed to show our solidarity, we’re going through hard times and im sure a lot of people are feeling a bit like poor Micheal who stole Trevelyns corn. ‘We had dreams and songs to sing’ but ‘now a prison ship is waiting in the bay’. Its back to reality now, back to austerity and unemployment and household charges, back to debt, emigration and depression and suicide and marriage break-up.
    I think you are completely wrong to suggest that the Irish singing their folk songs about their defeat was in some way diminishing the suffering of Polish people at the hands of Stalin and Hitler. Were any poles offended? I seriously doubt it.

  31. FF1 — The Holocaust happened in living memory. I knew a man whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz.

    Now, can you show me an example of where I said we should be anything? Please point it out so that I can correct it.

    I’ll stand over the assertion that we mumble and shuffle, and this is due to the way we’re trained as children. Our system places no value on coherent, articulate expression, which is why any Flash Harry with a bit of patter can manage to rip us off. All you have to do is look at the string of fast-talking spivs who ran our banks.

    Jesus Christ, even the German politicians speak clearer English than ours do.

    I did not say I wanted to be like the Brits or anyone else, and though we could certainly learn from some of their practices I’ll thank you not to put words in my mouth.

    I’ll also ask you to go easy on the sweeping statements, like the accusation of putting down everything Irish. You know full well it’s nonsense.

    Daddy-owe – I have no idea if any Poles were offended or not, and I care even less. Offence is taken, not given. However, showing disrespect is a different matter.

    The point of this post is to do with how people deal with things internally. Context is everything and this post is about people who understand the song and who also know where they physically are as they sing. Clearly, anyone who either doesn’t understand the song or doesn’t know the history of Poland is outside the scope of this post.

    They sing this song at Munster matches too and it mystifies me why they do so, when we already have a great song in The Isle. Unfortunately, local rivalries prevent the singing of that song which would be not only a great Munster anthem, but a great national anthem as well.

  32. Good old song, The Isle. Always liked it being sung down at the Shannon clubhouse. Miles better than our shit song and they had a great sense of pride and a little ritual attached to it.

  33. Bock – “The point of this post is to do with how people deal with things internally. Context is everything and this post is about people who understand the song and who also know where they physically are as they sing. Clearly, anyone who either doesn’t understand the song or doesn’t know the history of Poland is outside the scope of this post.”

    “Deal with things internally”?
    They were singing.. what were they dealing with internally?

    “Context is everything and this post is about people who understand the song and who also know where they physically are as they sing”
    Great, at least there’s an acknowledgement that the people who sung the song, knew what it meant.
    Can I also suggest, they also knew where they physically were and they are aware of WW2 history.

    I mean the arrogance to suggest they don’t know this.
    Then again you did say you think knowledge is lacking these days on another post – Another cringe inducing sentence to read.

    The fans knew where they were, they know that song and I’m sure a lot know WW2 history.. is it that you think they don’t know about WW2 no? Oh fuck off, jesus.

  34. How the fuck can I argue with that?! ffs. :)
    Look, I don’t mumble, I don’t shuffle – most of the time.
    I’m not even a dolly bird.. half the time.

    I think there’s an over analysis of the soccer fans out in Poland singing an Irish song.. as if it was inappropriate and disrespectful to the Polish.

    This –
    “If we could overcome this idea that our grievances and tragedies are unique, then maybe we could also overcome the idea that we exist in some sense outside Europe, in an untouchable Celtic bubble of post-oppression blamelessness, and start to grow up for ourselves”

    Our grievances and tragedies ARE unique. It’s what makes us who we are. It happened in our country, no one elses.
    And what’s wrong with feeling that we exist outside Europe?
    The Brits are perfectly fine with that.
    How exactly is further integration with Europe in our best interests?

  35. Our experience is ours though.
    And I don’t see why we need to overcome a sense of existing outside of Europe.

  36. I feel I really have to comment on this page as I am flabbergasted at your one-dimensional view of your fellow country men.

    Yes, this song is set in famine times but as many ballads in Ireland are, this is essentially a love song and about loss of what is loved. Its about the couple who will be seperated due to the crime committed and their love of Athenry.

    Please note, its the chorus that is being repeatidly sung and this does not mention famine. The words (seeing as you say they interest you) are;

    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
    It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

    You say people are singing about an event that happenned almost 170 years ago. If there is more meaning to what is being sung then a simple football chant of a well known song, consider the current environment in Ireland where yet again hundreds and thousands are leaving the shores looking to make a better life for their family.

    Hearing this song being sung while I am here, thousands of miles from home evokes visions of the beautiful landscape of Ireland the I miss so dearly and perhaps if you were in a country which lacks the greenery of childhood, you might comprehend this song a little better.

    Unfortuanatly if I were to grade your leaving cert english comprehension, I’d be able to award you a D+ for effort.

  37. It’s a miserable song, we were feeling miserable after getting thumped four nil.

  38. I read a lot of history. I recently read about the Malmedy massacre (WW2, 84 G.I’s murdered in a field by the SS), also a story about 40 British commandos, glider troops whose aircraft crashed in Norway – they were on their way to blow up the Nazi heavy water plant at Telemark and prevent the nazis from developing the atom bomb. After being captured they were brutally tortured, bound with barbed wire and dispatched with a bullet to the head.
    I watched a movie about the Katyn massacre – 15000 Polish officers, intellectuals and other undesirables all executed and buried in a forest on Stalin’s orders.
    I went on to read the story of Violette Szabo and her colleagues in SOE – female agents who were captured, interrogated, tortured and gang-raped by their captors before being put to death by beheading, lethal injection or hanging, and in one case cremated while still conscious. bear in mind that these were all young girls. And a damn sight braver than I’ll ever be.
    Then I read ‘The Knights of Bushido’, by Lord Russell of Liverpool, detailing Japanese war crimes that were so horrific that they made Hitler’s and Stalin’s boys look like models of humanity (and the Black and Tans like Girl Guides).

    Just a random few of the many tragedies and sacrifices during this troubled time.

    The point I’m trying to make is that all these things happened in more recent history – World War II – yet nobody sings songs about any of the victims listed above. But then, it’s hardly surprising – what did Ireland do during this time? Going by my Grandmother’s comments not much except complain about the price of groceries.
    Yes, a lot of brave individuals left these shores to fight, but the collective consciousness only harks back to 150 years ago and prefers to ignore more recent, and ultimately more relevant events.

    My 2-bobs worth.

    PS- I don’t want songs to be written and sung about these things. That would be ridiculous and belittle the memory of these people.

  39. P.P.S. These sort of awful dirges are popular because they were committed by the ‘auld enemy’.
    When can we expect to hear a song that tells of the crimes committed by Bertie, Seanie, etc that caused a new wave of emigration and misery?
    Or the complete lack of progress made by their predecessors in the past 90 years?
    Because let’s face it, the history of Ireland since independence has always been high unemployment and mass emigration (apart from the tiger years, which ultimately only made things worse).

    When are these songs going to be written?

    I might even join in with the rest of the braying donkeys in the crowd.

  40. @Barry No. 29. Exactly,what has it to do with Spain v. Ireland? Nothing. Cindys credulity indicates she is one of the decent skins,one of the sheep. Who embrace mediocrity. Youre so patriotic,I assume youve paid the household charge?

  41. Totally agree Sminkypinky. Why did these Irish football fans let Seanie Fitzpatrick socialise amongst them? This gombeen should be treated like a leper, have to wear a bell around his neck, and be cast out from civilised society. Yet there he is, kitted out in his Ireland gear, enjoying the craic amongst them. I bet he does a great version of the Fields of Athenry and buys his round. No wonder the rest of Europe looks on the Irish as submissive simpletons who will do as they are told.

  42. @tonyc. I don’t own a house, so no, I didn’t pay my household charge. Next question…….

  43. @ Daddy-owe No 42 Great comment.
    I’m so sick of the bullshit about the irish fans singing. And yes Bock I have read the post and realise that you are talking about the song choice rather than the singing.
    If I’d spent a couple of grand going to poland I’d enjoy myself no matter what the result of a footaball match. and that’s all they were doing, trying to enjoy themselves and make the best of a shit situation. The song choice? who cares, certainly not the poles. I’m sure they’d love it if 20,000 irish fans would go back and sing it every summer

  44. Ironically some of the people who insist on belting out songs that maybe
    genuine artist wrote in distress can be the most awful racists.

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