Theresa O’Connor

You’ll Never Beat the Irish — Irish History in Song

In three parts, this is the Wolfe Tones’ quick and dirty summary of 800 years of Irish history. It’s not exactly the most unbiased telling. For that, I highly recommend Robert Kee’s The Green Flag trilogy (The Most Distressful Country, The Bold Fenian Men, and Ourselves Alone) — it’s excellently balanced and thorough. For online resources, CAIN’s chronology of key events in Irish history from 1170 to 1967 is a decent outline of the period.

Family with Dev

Clockwise from top-left: my great-uncle James Donohue, my uncle Billy (WJCIV), my grandfather (WJCIII), my grandmother, and Éamon de Valera. Circa 1970.

Part 1 (“1167”1–1690)

In 11671 they came to Ireland on the make
They were followed by invasions and by conquests in their wake
The kings and queens of England made our land a battleground
They took the land by fraud, defeat, by poison, murder, and deceit

Murder, plunder, faugh a ballagh clear the way
Cheating, stealing, diddly-idle-day
Dumping, dying, faugh a ballagh clear the way
diddly-idle-doh, diddly-idle-day

Then by the 15th century they held precariously to the Pale
The invaders were more Irish than the Irish, that’s the tale
Fat greedy king called Henry’s dick was bigger than his brain
Imposed the Reformation — confiscating — usurpation!

And you’ll never beat the Irish, no matter what you do
You can put us down and keep us out, but we’ll come back again
You know we are the fighting Irish, and we’ll fight until the end
You know you should have known — you’ll never beat the Irish!

The virgin queen Elizabeth brought more turmoil to our land
She decimated Munster, scorched the earth and all at hand
Then James the First and Charles the Maud brought other greedy bands
They took the land of Ulster, killed their chieftans — poison — plunder!

And by defective titles they cheated Connacht and the west
Across the 17th century from war we had no rest
The curse of Cromwell plauged the land till our towns ran red with blood
And the Battle of the Boyne was fought by William, James, and foreign hosts

Part 2 (1690–1921)

After the Seige of Limerick Patrick Sarsfield won the day
But the Irish they were cheated when his army went away
Queen Anne and her successors forced on us those penal laws
Denying the rights and liberty of religion, land, and property

Then came the three bad Georges and they had us nearly fooled
They couldn’t speak the lingo of the countries that they ruled
Puppets of ascendancy, they kept the Irish down
And the rebels and the whiteboys had their army on the run!

The famine queen Victoria came to rule us by and by
She was on the throne so bloody long we thought she’d never die
She presided over hunger, famine, poverty, and disease
She drove the people from their homes — to their death or to the land beyond the sea

All across the 19th century we fought opression with great zeal
O’Connell spoke his blarney for Emancipation and Repeal
Young Ireland and the Fenians tried the dynamite and the gun
Parnell2, the men of ’16 died, then Michael Collins had them on the run!

Part 3 (1922–)

In 1922 well they divided up our land
Six counties held by England, it was all they could command
Against the wishes of the majority of the people of our land
Drove a border through our country — through towns and homes and mountains!

Then our country was engulfed into a bloody civil war
Between those against the treaty, and those who voted for
George the Fifth he opened Parliament for the statelet in the north
While the rest were building Ireland from the ruined colonial ashes!

Then Edward, George, and Elizabeth looked after Ireland’s fate
They watched discrimination grow in a gerrymandered state
Homes and churches burnt while the Orangemen’s power it grew
Discrimination, bigotry, in housing, jobs, and liberties!

From the ashes of the past, then the phoenix did emerge
A new declared republic on the world it did converge
To search for peace, prosperity, and unity in our land
We threw our lot in Europe, then made our peace agreement!

And with that, I’ll bring an end to this year’s installment of my Irish History in Song series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody. I will be!


  1. 1169, actually.
  2. Probably the most egregious part of this trilogy is that Parnell only gets one word, though I suppose that somewhat artistically mirrors his gravestone.