For a while I've been looking into the Irish connection to Liverpool for my next History and Football installment and the topic of the Fields of Anfield Road/Fields of Athenry cropped up in a thread in FD. Unfortunately it got locked due to the behaviour of some posters but I thought I'd make a thread out of the two posts I made in there.
The timing couldn't be better. The entire crowd was in full voice singing that song at the match yesterday. I was listening to the game on the radio as I was driving at the time. It simply gave me goosebumps. Due to the Irish connection to Liverpool, there is no better club to adapt the original 'Fields of Athenry' as a club anthem.
So what does 'The Fields of Anfield Road' or indeed (especially if you're Irish) its original version 'The Fields of Athenry' mean to you? Here's what I had to say:
I love both songs.
For those of you not familiar with the original:
"By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling,
Michael they are taking you away.
For you stole Trevelyn's corn,
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.
Michael and Mary, two young lovers with a child who are torn apart by poverty and the famine. During the famine of the 1840's an effort was made by the British Government was made to import cheap Indian* maize from America in an effort to feed the millions of people who were literally starving to death due to the failure of their staple crop, the potato, to the blight. This corn was nicknamed 'Peel's Brimstone' by the Irish, named after Prime Minister Robert Peel due in part to it's bright yellow colour, due in part to the fact it was hard and difficult to digest (causing diarrhoea). He had tried to repeal Britain's Corn Laws (which protected wealthy British Farmers by imposing high tarrifs on imported grain, making foreign grain too expensive for the Irish farmers) in 1845 but had fierce oppostion by English gentry and politicians. He secretly ordered the import of the cheap Indian meal in 1846 without the knowledge of his conservative ministers to help feed the starving Irish. The Civil servant who was responsible for distributing the corn and overseeing relief operations was Charles Trevelyan (hence Trevelyan's corn). He was overly bureaucratic and non too fond of the Irish either. He claimed that the famine was "mechanism for reducing surplus population" and "The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people". (Incidently, it's quotes like this that lead some Irish to describe the Famine as the Irish Holocaust as they believe the British government deliberatly did nothing to help the Irish so that they would be eradicated as a population)
Trevelyan only once visited Ireland, and that was to Dublin (where the impact of the famine wasn't as severe). He implemented 'public works' programmes to provide employment (at a pittance) to the Irish so that they could afford the 'one penny per pound' corn. Even this was not enough to sustain the hungry who were used to surviving on 14 pounds of potatoes a day. (A monotonous, yet healthy diet). Plus the corn needed to be ground twice before it was fit for consumption and Ireland had very few mills that could process this grain. There was also insubstansial supplies to feed the hungry and as supplies ran out.... more desperate people turned to crime in an effort to steal the corn 'so the young might see the morn'
As a result, Michael in the song... and many others like him were bound for the prision ship and the penal colonies of Australia.
*Indian, meaning native American.
By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters Mary when you're free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity.
In this verse Michael, hearing Mary's cries replies to her. It also gives another side to the story of the famine. That of the rebel fenians (or Young Irelanders)
In 1848, rebellions and social uprisings were happening throughout Europe, and Ireland was no different. A group calling themselves the Irish Confederate called for an Irish Parliament (having been abolished in 1801) that would have full legislative powers in Ireland. They did not advocate full rebellion but neither did they say they would use exclusively peaceful means. Their goal was independence of the Irish nation and they held to any means to achieve that which were consistent with honour, morality and reason. They became known as the 'Young Irelanders'. Led by William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Meagher (names largely forgotten in Irish republican history) they believed they could achieve a bloodless rebellion through the united efforts of Irish landlords and tenants. (Irish landlords also 'suffered' as a result of the famine as many tenants were unable to pay rents so very often they paid for their passage to England or America). The British government however declared a suspension of 'Habeas Corpus' meaning they could arrest and imprision the Young Irelanders without trial. Smith O'Brien and others decided to resist and fight. The main revolt took place in the village of Ballingarry in Co. Tipperary. A stand-off occured in a farmhouse where the police then fired unprovoked at the rebels. This led to an exchange of shots and subsequently the rebel leaders were arrested. They were initially charged and found guilty of treason and sentenced to death but this was commuted and the were to be transported to the penal colonies in Australia and Tasmania.
Given that Michael says that 'against the famine and the crown I rebelled' and that the 'prision ship' is waiting to transport him to the colony, another interpretation is that he was perhaps involved with the fenians and young Irelanders, even though Athenry is in Galway and not Tipperary. For Mary; She's left holding the baby.
By a lonely harbour wall She watched the last star falling
And that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she'll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay,
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.
I feel this is the saddest verse. She is watching her love go to a far off land. It's likely she'll never see him again. Yet the middle line still has a note of optimism, of hope. That she may one day be reunited with him. It almost embodies the Irish spirit. That no matter how bad things are, there is always hope for the future and there are always the happy memories of the past. This is echoed I feel, in the chorus:
Low, lie the fields of Athenry,
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.
For a fleeting moment it harks back to a simpler more innocent time, when they were were in love and had dreams for the future. Ultimately it's a sad song, but it has a strong sense of resiliance and of hope. To never give up no matter how bad things get. It's this message too that really serves as a connection to the adapted version that we all like to sing in Anfield.
(and really relates to the club)
That to follow....