Watching the Irish rugby matches over the past few weeks I’ve been reminded of just how awful our national anthem is when compared to those of other nations. Considering Amhrán na bhFiann is all about soldiers, conflict and beating back hordes of thieving Saxons, you would expect it to be a bit more rousing and exciting. As it is, the monotonous dirge that is usually droned along to in a half-hearted fashion couldn’t be any less inspirational. Apparently Yeats was right; romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary…who didn’t even make the squad. To be fair, our anthem is still significantly better than that Phil Coulter abomination that we have to sing to placate the Ulster lads, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Written in 1907, the song soon became a popular marching tune for the Irish Volunteers. It was also sung by the rebels in the GPO during the Easter Rising. Funnily enough, the song wasn’t translated into Irish until after 1916. The image of young, rebellious Irish freedom fighters singing a nationalistic war tune in the King’s English seems a bit incongruous. Then again, that entire conflict was basically a suicide mission dreamed up by some deranged homosexual poets who wanted to die a bloody and glorious death and bring as many innocent, impressionable Irish kids with them as possible. So I suppose it wasn’t the strangest part of those few days.
Among other rugby nations, in particular, our anthem falls disappointingly short. The Six Nations tournament boasts some seriously impressive anthems. God Save the Queen, while inherently akin to fingernails on a blackboard for Irish people, does in fairness have a certain bombastic quality. The lyrics may be imperialistic nonsense that belongs in the dark ages, but it’s a catchy tune. The Welsh anthem is similarly pleasing to the ear, helped greatly by the fact that every Welshman is blessed with an incredible singing voice. And the fact that Katherine Jenkins is often the one singing it.
The Scots touch on similar themes to us, but in a much more violent fashion. Flower of Scotland is basically a history lesson and an Anglophobic hate crime rolled up into a Highlands tune, which is why everyone loves it so much. The French have La Marseillaise, possibly the catchiest anthem of them all. It’s a stirring and upbeat tune that is always sung with great gusto and passion, and best of all it ensures that two whole minutes can pass without the French booing their own players. Finally we have the Italian anthem, which, while a little dated at this stage, is still a great sing-along tune, and accurately encapsulates the Italian personality.
Our own national song definitely needs some updating if it’s to compete with its contemporaries. A competition to find a worthy replacement would appear to be in order, and could take the place of our ridiculous annual search for new victims to send to the Eastern Bloc love-in that is the Eurovision. I’ll give you a heads-up lads, if we’ve never had a genocidal dictator then we’re not going to win. Those depressingly generic landlocked Soviet abortions of countries have it all sewn up. They all give each other douze points every year, and in return they have a free trade between themselves in worker donkeys, landmine detectors and framed photographs of Stalin that they can hang over their cooking pot and spit on whenever they pass by. That’s what the Western European media tells me anyway, I don’t see why they’d lie.
If we couldn’t find a suitable entry from Ireland, we could always get some professional help. Perhaps we could pool together what little cash we have left and pay Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the like to compose a dramatic new piece that would be the envy of the anthem community. Although the Garda band might have to expand its ranks a little in order to do it justice. Walking all those cellos onto the Croke Park pitch every weekend would be a bit of a chore.
The other alternative, of course, would be to adopt an existing song as our new anthem. Something that reflects the direction we’re heading in, like this Talking Heads number. Having it sung at national occasions would hardly be uplifting, but at least it would show a realistic approach to our current situation. In a few years we’ll probably be forced into adopting some sort of happy-clappy pan-European anthem anyway, so we might as well enjoy our autonomy while it lasts, and have a bit of fun with our new anthem. Just make sure nobody tells Phil Coulter about it.