Belfast Telegraph

Ardoyne Fleadh controversy: Rebel songs must face the music for fuelling republican terrorism

The group performing on stage at the Ardoyne Fleadh
The group performing on stage at the Ardoyne Fleadh
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

I enjoy a number of different types of music, but I have to confess that Irish rebel music is not one of them.

Indeed, it is a genre of music about which I knew very little until it hit the headlines recently after a sectarian outburst by the lead singer of an Irish rebel group. I suspect many readers may be in the same situation.

At the Ardoyne Fleadh, the lead singer of The Druids called for "British soldiers" and their "Orange comrades" to "f*** away off back to England where they came from". Such sentiments were expressed in word and song, and the crowd, which was largely made up of young people, roared their approval.

Essentially, Irish rebel music is a sub-genre of Irish folk music, with the same styles and instrumentation as mainstream Irish folk music, but with lyrics about Irish republicanism.

There is an old saying: "Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws." There are a number of variations of the saying, and some people suggest its origin is to be found in classical times.

But the first authentic reference I can find is in the writings of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655-1716), a Scottish writer, politician and soldier who opposed the Act of Union.

He wrote of "a wise man" who "believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation".

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The Nazis knew that, and the Hitler Youth sang, "God is struggle and struggle is our blood and that is why we were born".

The head of the Hitler Youth published a "hymn" entitled Profession of Faith in the Fuhrer. This was Kulturpolitik, and the Hitler Youth marched and sang, affirming their political faith and confirming their solidarity.

Much nearer to home and in a totally different way, the power of song is illustrated by Flower of Scotland, which was written back in 1965 by Roy Williamson of The Corries.

Who can doubt that it has contributed to patriotic fervour in Scotland? You have only to listen to a Scottish crowd singing it enthusiastically at a football match. Indeed, it has become their unofficial anthem.

Once we have recognised the power of songs to influence, for a good end or a bad one, there remains a question about the influence of Irish rebel music.

Having viewed and listened to a number of YouTube clips of Irish rebel groups and singers, and having seen the reaction of the audiences, it is very clear that it fuels hatred, romanticises the IRA and encourages support for violent republicanism.

It may be that the plaintive ballad about a dead "hero martyr" of the IRA and songs about IRA men such as Sean South, who was killed during the Border Campaign, helped to maintain the republican spirit during the 1960s.

If they weren't killing policemen and soldiers, they were at least determined to sing about it and keep the faith alive.

That is one of the principal outcomes of such music – sustaining a spirit of support for violent republicanism. Today, Irish rebel music still plays an important role in republican communities, and the last IRA campaign has produced a new round of rebel songs and a new round of rebel bands.

When The Druids sing about an IRA sniper picking up his Armalite and murdering a British soldier, they are singing about the Provisional IRA and not some distant past.

This is a musical world where IRA terrorists are portrayed as romantic heroes and music can mould and influence. It is a world where murderers are turned into "martyrs for Ireland".

Perhaps, instead of part-funding a fleadh which features such music as its climax, the Community Relations Council will consider how to counteract this poisonous influence.

Perhaps, too, some investigative television programme will start investigating this. Or maybe not.

Nelson McCausland MLA is Minister for Social Development

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