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Personal Choice 44

Fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling

‘Michael, they have taken you away,

For you stole Trevelyan's corn,

So the young might see the morn.

Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.’


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.

By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young man calling

‘Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free

Against the famine and the crown,

I rebelled, they cut me down.

Now you must raise our child with dignity.’

By a lonely harbor wall, she watched the last star fall

As the prison ship sailed out against the sky

Sure she'll wait and hope and pray for her love in Botany Bay

It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

Pete St. John

The Fields of Athenry is a song written in 1979 by Pete St. John in the style of an Irish folk ballad. Set during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Pete St. John has stated he heard a story about a young man from the Athenry area who had been caught stealing corn to feed his family during the Irish famine years and was deported to Australia. The lyrics suggest the convict's crime is that he ‘stole Trevelyan's corn’; this is a reference to Charles Edward Trevelyan, a senior English civil servant in the administration of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Dublin Castle. Trevelyan famously said, ‘the judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson’. He believed that the starving Irish could subsist on maize, a grain that they could not afford, and had little knowledge of or experience in preparing. In 1979, the song was recorded by Danny Doyle, reaching the top ten in the Irish Singles Chart. The song charted again in 1982 for Barleycorn, reaching number seven in Ireland, but the most successful version was released by Paddy Reilly in 1982. While peaking only at number four, it remained in the Irish charts for 72 weeks. It has become a widely known, popular anthem for Irish sports supporters.

Probably amongst the best of Irish folk music lyrics given its relatively modern origins. It draws on all the traditional themes of much of the folk music tradition including love, separation, punishment, injustice, poverty and hope. An achingly beautiful piece of poetry!


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