From folk to sports galleries: the song that forever changed the life of a small Irish town


Eurocup 2012 in Poland. Ireland had lost 3 to 1 in the first match against Croatia and needed to beat Spain in the second if they wanted to stay alive in the tournament. But that June 14, at the Arena Gdansk, the selection of Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos, Busquets and company had no mercy: with goals from Torres (4 and 70), Silva (43) and Fabregas (83) the Spanish won 4 at 0 and headed for their second consecutive continental title. Statistics showed an overwhelming possession of 66% and 26 shots, of which 20 went to goal. The Irish would also lose the last match (with Italy) and go home without points at the end of the group stage.

That goal by Fabregas, the fourth, was the trigger for an unprecedented and moving reaction that shocked not only the world of soccer but also transcended its borders and was commented on in news and newspapers across Europe and beyond. Far from being intimidated and leaving the stadium due to the crushing defeat, the Irish fans began at that 83rd minute to sing loudly a song, a kind of motivating hymn for their players, an epic melody in the midst of a battle lost miserably. The scene lasted until several minutes after the game ended. The Poles understood nothing. Less the Spanish: his team had won, liked and thrashed and those who seemed to celebrate were his rivals.

The Fields of Athenry (The fields of Athenry), the song chanted by the Irish fans, was written in 1979 by the folk music composer Pete St. John. It tells a story that occurred in the midst of a brutal famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Michael, the protagonist, is caught stealing corn to feed his family in a field in Travelyan, the British authority. He is sentenced to serve a sentence on a prison ship anchored in Botany Bay, Australia, and from there writes letters to his wife and daughter.

The chorus describes The Fields of Athenry Like a place where people once gathered to watch the birds fly, fall in love, dream their dreams and sing their songs, and now it is an abandoned and desolate wasteland. The song was recorded in 1979 by the singer Danny Doyle and it was covered by several popular Irish groups.

The song combines a melody of enormous beauty, especially in the chorus, with a nostalgic lyrics, which, sung by a crowd, acquires that epic character.

It has been interpreted by numerous Irish artists as The Dubliners, Daniel O’Donnell And till U2 did a live version. Other non-Irish artists were also encouraged, including the English The Durutti Column and the American Bruce Springsteen during a presentation in Dublin.

U2 interpret the theme One during a show in Italy on St. Patrick’s Day. At the end, Bono sings the chorus of The Fields of Athenry accompanied with his acoustic guitar

From the protest song to the sports anthem

The story of a British authority imposing severe punishment on a helpless and poor Irishman during the famine tragedy came as a ring to the finger of the militants and sympathizers of the Irish Revolutionary Army (I.R.A.) who began using The Fields of Athenry like a protest song.

In the chorus they took advantage to incorporate some additions, where it says Low lie the fields of Athenry, where once we watched the small free birds fly, the crowd responded, Hey baby let the free birds fly! (Let the free birds fly) And further on, where it says We had dreams and songs to sing, the crowd responded in chorus, (The) IRA!

But on the opposite sidewalk the unionists, rivals of the republicans in the Northern Irish Conflict, also began to use the melody and its status as a protest song was diluted to become a hymn that reflected the long-suffering history of the entire Irish people .

From there, the jump to the sports stands was not long in coming. First in Ireland, then in Scotland, England, Australia and all the English-speaking countries. Its popularity reached exotic destinations such as Serbia, Hungary, and Poland.

Athenry is a small town of 5,000 inhabitants in the south-west of Ireland, in County Galway and close to the capital of the same name. In photos you can see the very well preserved castle of the song, the remains of the abbey and other buildings of the time, coexisting with the low houses of the most modern constructions.

Alan Burgess He is Manager at Athenry Arts & Heritage Center (responsible for the Athenry Arts and Heritage Center). In dialogue with Infobae Culture describes the city as “a medieval town with a rich culture and a huge tourist attraction.”

“The song composed by Pete St. John reflects the impact the famine had on the local community and the difficulties they faced during this time,” he continues. “As an attraction we have many national and international tourists who discover the magic of the city through song and we have also had musicians, choirs, rugby clubs and soccer fans who come and sing the song in the heritage center.” And he says that the author, born in Dublin, is a regular visitor to the town, very committed to the tragic period of famine in Ireland.

Expansion around the world

The appearance of the song in the sports galleries had a domino effect. It was heard first in the hurling leagues (an Irish sport similar to hockey) and then in soccer and also in rugby: it is one of the favorites of the Munster fans, where the Argentines played Eusebio Guiñazú (2014–2015) and Lucas González Amorosino (2015–2016).

Its use during the European Championship in Poland had several antecedents. One of the most remembered, in 1990 during the World Cup in Italy, when it was the motivating hymn of the Irish fans and one of the most beautiful songs that was heard throughout the event, along with Notti Magiche, the official theme.

That beauty of its melody also fell in love with Celtic supporters in Scottish football and from there it began to spread south to Liverpool itself. You’ll never walk alone It is the anthem with which the followers of the Reds accompany their team. But they are also famous for taking other hits and converting them for their purposes, the most recent being And give joy to my heart, from Fito Páez.

In 2009 Liverpool fans turned the Pete St. John theme into The Fields of Anfield Road, in reference to the avenue that leads to its stadium, Anfield Park. With the same melody but with the lyrics adapted to its history and stadium, supporters used it to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, where there were 96 deaths and 766 injuries during a match in Sheffield between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

The following months and years the “virus” The Fields of Athenry it continued to spread, first through the English-speaking countries until it reached Australia. But also to little imagined destinations: versions are known in Serbia, Poland, Hungary and even in Argentina.

During a rugby match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Irish national team, in the performance of the haka, the traditional Maori ritual dance of the men in black, supporters of the clover team responded challengingly by singing the song.

The famous British Golf Open had its 148th edition in 2019 in Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland. It had been 68 years since he had set foot on Irish soil and the end of the novel couldn’t be better when the assistants saw the board on Sunday showing the “Golfer Champion of the Year” to a son from the island: with a total score of 197 strokes, Shane lowry He beat the English Tommy Fleetwood by four, to take the famous Claret Jug (the trophy that is given to the winners) to his home.

That night, Lowry, his manager, his caddy and several friends went to party in a pub and the rustic videos taken with cell phones went viral on social networks, especially among sports fans. In them the winner is seen up on a table, with a pint of beer in one hand and the trophy in the other singing loudly along with everyone present The Fields of Athenry.

The pride of a whole people

Alan Burgess He remembers another fact related to the song that also happened last year. “On May 6 the entire city made an attempt to set a world record by singing together on the streets The Fields of Athenry. The event was national and international news and installed local pride within the city as they sang this popular song. ”

The event was filmed with many cameras and even drones. On a sunny spring day you can see the townspeople on the main street and its surroundings singing the theme accompanied by 118 flutists, the band Amazing Apples and the singer Matt Cunningham.

No one was missing. From Quartermaster to Queen of Galway (Galway Rose) Deirdre O’Sullivan and the special olympic athlete Áine McDermott; grandparents, parents and children, all said present to sing the verses of the song that changed their lives forever.