Theresa O’Connor

Flight of Earls — Irish History in Song

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be posting several entries capturing the historical context of some Irish folk songs. (I did this in 2006 and 2007 as well.)

Bagatelle’s Liam Reilly wrote this sad-yet-hopeful song about the youth emigration Ireland saw in the 80’s. Like Thousands are Sailing, he draws a parallel with a previous round of emigration—in this case, with the flight of O'Neill and O'Donnell after their failed rebellion in 1607.

Songs like these are strangely anachronistic now, what with the Celtic Tiger and all. Makes me wonder if there are any Polish songs like this today.

I can hear the bells of Dublin
In this lonely waiting room
And the paperboys are singing in the rain
Not too long before they take us
To the airport and the noise
To get onboard a trans-atlantic plane
We’ve got nothing left to stay for
We have no more left to say
And there isn’t any work for us to do
So farewell you boys and girls
Another bloody flight of Earls
Our best asset is our best export too

It’s not murder, fear or famine
That makes us leave this time
We’re not going to join McAlpine’s fusiliers
We’ve got brains and we’ve got vision
We’ve got education too
But we just can’t throw away these precious years
So we walk the streets of London
And the streets of Baltimore
And we meet at night in several Boston bars
We’re the leaders of the future
But we’re far away from home
And we dream of you beneath the Irish stars

As we look on Ellis Island
And the lady in the bay
And Manhattan turns to face another Sunday
We just wonder what you’re doing
For to bring us all back home
As we look forward to another Monday
Because it’s not the work that scares us
We don’t mind an honest job
And we know things will get better once again
So a thousand times adieu
We’ve got Bono and U2
And all we’re missing is the Guinness and the rain

So switch off your new computers
’Cause the writing’s on the wall
We’re leaving as our fathers did before
Take a look at Dublin Airport
Or the boat that leaves North Wall
There’ll be no youth unemployment anymore
Because we’re over here in Queensland
And in parts of New South Wales
We’re on the seas and airways and the trains
And if we see better days
Those big airplanes go both ways
And we’ll all be coming home to you again!