An Irish rebel song attributed to Pete St. John, protesting the intervention of the English crown in Irish affairs, and the harsh treatment of Irish nationalists by the British. This is a favorite in many of the Irish pubs in America, but I doubt that it's sung too loudly in Belfast. The song is sad in tone, but the chords of the chorus are mostly major chords, and feel uplifting--like most rebel songs, it speaks of despair but sings of hope. "Athenry" is pronounced "ATH-en-RYE", and Trevelyan is pronounced "traVELyun" or "traVAILyun"; the rest of the words are pretty simple.

This song rewrites the theme of many folk tales--the brave husband who steals bread to feed his children--setting it in Ireland during the so-called potato famine of 1847. An Irishman will more likely call it Black 47, and can tell you at length exactly how much famine there was. But that's outside the scope of this song, and even if you don't holler the audience participation bits in the middle (which I've marked in italics), I think you can enjoy this song.


By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling,
"Michael, they are taking you away.
For you stole Trevelyan's corn,
so the young might see the morn.
Now your prison ship lies waiting in the bay."

Low lie the fields of Athenry,
Where once we saw the small free birds fly.
(Hey, baby, see the free birds fly?)
Our love was on the wing,
(Sinn Fein!)
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
(Fuck the crown!)
I rebelled. They cut me down.
Now, you must raise our child with diginity.


By a lonely harbour wall,
She watched the last star falling.
As the prison ship sailed out against the sky.
She can live, and hope, and pray
For her love in Botany Bay.
But it's lonely in the fields of Athenry.


To my friends in England: I hope that I haven't offended you. I know there are two sides to every story, and I know that this only represents one side of a complex issue. But then, nationalist political folk songs rarely treat any subject objectively. And it is a great tune, isn't it?

The lines in parenthesis in Jurph's lyrics are of course not part of the original composition, and are added only when the song is sung by supporters of the IRA (who may also be supporters of Glasgow Celtic). Otherwise the song is pretty inoffensive to British people, and there really is no reason for Jurph to apologise to his English friends. The story of the song is one from the time of the Great Famine, and I don't think anybody will take offence at the assertion that this was a Bad Thing.

This song is often sung by Irish supporters at sporting occasions, including Rugby matches, probably because it's almost certainly the best-known traditional Irish song, along with Molly Malone. It was sung with great gusto during Munster's recent European Rugby Cup campaign, despite the inconvenient fact that Athenry is in the province of Connacht.

A recording of this song by Paddy Reilly became an enormous hit in Ireland during the 1980s. and a rather unfortunate dance remix became a hit in 1999.

As regards the origin of Athenry, it's from Béal Átha an Rí, which means the mouth of the ford of the king.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.