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Amhrán na bhFiann
The Soldier's Song
Irish national anthem (1916).jpg
English lyrics sheet, c.1916
National anthem of Ireland
Also known as "A Soldier's Song" (original)
Lyrics Peadar Kearney, 1909 (English version)
Liam Ó Rinn, 1923 (Irish version)
Music Patrick Heeney, 1910
Adopted 12 July 1926

"Amhrán na bhFiann", called "The Soldier's Song" in English, is Ireland's national anthem. The music was composed by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heeney, the original English lyrics by Kearney, and the Irish-language translation, now usually the version heard, by Liam Ó Rinn. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is used as the national anthem.

The Presidential Salute, played when the President of Ireland arrives at an official engagement, consists of the first four bars of the national anthem immediately followed by the last five.



"A Soldiers' Song" was composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The first draft, handwritten on copybook paper, sold at auction in Dublin in 2006 for €760,000. The text was first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It was used as marching song by the Irish Volunteers and was sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increased among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA's men and apparatus became the National Army. The "Soldiers' Song" remained popular as an Army tune, and was played at many military functions.

Official adoption

The Free State did not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Civil War provoked a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continued to regard "God Save the King" as the national anthem, as it had been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, on 28 April 1924, expressed opposition to replacing the "Soldiers' Song", which was provisionally used within the State. Sean Lester, Publicist at the Department of External Affairs considered "The Soldiers' Song" to be "hardly suitable in words or music" and favoured the music, though not the words, of "Let Erin Remember". This was used as the anthem for the state at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and other events abroad for the next two years. The Dublin Evening Mail held contests in 1924 and 1925 to find verses for a new anthem; the first produced no sufficiently good entry, and the second's winning entry was soon forgotten.

There was concern that the lack of an official anthem was giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with "God Save the King". The "Soldiers' Song" was widely if unofficially sung by nationalists, and on 12 July 1926, the Executive Council decided to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. This decision was not publicised. On 20 June 1926, Osmond Esmonde asked the President of the Executive Council what the National Anthem was, but the Ceann Comhairle Michael Hayes ruled 'If the Deputy desires to investigate any problem in regard to the National Anthem, he cannot ask a question of the President. The President cannot be asked to define what is the National Anthem. It is not part of his functions.' Esmonde instead asked Minister for Defence Peter Hughes what 'as far as the Army is concerned' was the National Anthem. While the draft response provided for Hughes stated that 'while no final decision has been come to', "The soldier's song" was 'at present accepted as the National Anthem", in the Dáil chamber he responded simply 'The "Soldiers' Song."'

In 1928, the Army band established the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version was discouraging audiences from singing along. Also in 1928, Chief Justice Hugh Kennedy, returning from an official trip to North America, reported that an official arrangement of the music was "very badly needed" for circulation abroad. This was produced in July 1929 by Colonel Fritz Brasé, director of the Army band. This consisted only of the chorus, and was published under the title "The Soldier's Song", rather than "A Soldier's Song" or the "Soldiers' Song".

The anthem was played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres did so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who had received royalties from sheet music publishers, issued legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He was joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquired the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200 (£980 to the copyright holders plus £220 expenses). Copyright law changed in 1959, such that the government had to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expired in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney's death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduced a private member's bill intended to restore the state's copyright in the anthem.

In the Dáil debate preceding the original acquisition of copyright, there was discussion of the song's merits or lack thereof. Frank MacDermot said, "Leaving out sentiment, I must confess, from both a literary and a musical point of view, I would regard the "Soldier's Song" as, shall we say, a jaunty little piece of vulgarity, and I think we could have done a lot better.". Thomas F. O'Higgins responded, "National Anthems come about, not because of the suitability of the particular words or notes, but because they are adopted generally by the nation. That is exactly how the "Soldiers' Song" became a National Anthem in this country. It happened to be the Anthem on the lips of the people when they came into their own and when the outsiders evacuated the country and left the insiders here to make the best or the worst of the country. It was adopted by the people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council".

The anthem is recommended, but not required, to be taught as part of the civics syllabus in national schools.


The Governor-General of the Irish Free State was the King's representative and, as such, unionists considered that the appropriate official salute to play was "God Save The King" rather than the Free State Anthem. In 1929, Governor-General James McNeill refused to attend a public function in Trinity College when he learned that the university intended to play "God Save The King" rather than "The Soldiers' Song" during his visit. In 1932, Éamon de Valera became President of the Executive Council; as part of his campaign to abolish the office of Governor-General, he forbade the Army band to play "The Soldiers' Song" in McNeill's presence.

Irish version

The Irish translation was written by Liam Ó Rinn (1886–1943), later the Chief Translator of the Oireachtas, who was involved in the Irish versions of both the 1922 Constitution and the 1937 Constitution. Although Sherry says the Irish version was first published in An tÓglach (the magazine of the Irish Defence Forces) on 3 November 1923, an almost identical text was printed in the Freeman's Journal on 3 April 1923, under Ó Rinn's pen name "Coinneach". It may have been written as early as 1917. Several earlier translations had been made, which Ó Rinn criticised as unreadable. These were in literary Classical Irish, whereas Ó Rinn favoured the living vernacular spoken in Gaeltacht areas. Other Irish translations were made, including one sung by Claisceadal in University College Galway in December 1931. From the 1930s, the Gaelic Athletic Association encouraged singing the anthem in Irish at its matches. The text of the Ó Rinn version was printed in the 1933 edition of An Camán, and in the programs of matches at Croke Park, and the crowd was led via the public address system by singers from St Patrick's College of Education and Conradh na Gaeilge.

The English version has been almost totally eclipsed. The English version was sung in Canada during a state visit by President Mary McAleese in 1998, and at the 2004 Ryder Cup in the United States. The latter prompted objections from Fáilte Ireland, and what Gaeltacht Minister Éamon Ó Cuív called "an outcry" from viewers in Ireland.

The Irish version is a free translation of the English; in particular, "Sinne Fianna Fáil" is not a literal translation of "Soldiers are we". Fianna Fáil, variously translated as "Soldiers of Destiny", "Warriors of Destiny" or "Soldiers of Ireland", is from the Irish Fianna ("band of warriors") of Fál (a coronation stone, and metonymically "Ireland"). As an Irish name for the Irish Volunteers, it was an alternative to Óglaigh na hÉireann. The initials "FF" appeared on the Volunteer badge, and subsequently on that of the Irish Army. On 2 April 1926, "Fianna Fáil" was chosen as the name of Éamon de Valera's new political party. Since the Irish version of the anthem became popular in the 1930s, there has been intermittent resentment of the party name's occurring in it. Publishers Browne & Nolan printed a version in 1938 substituting "Sinne laochra fáil" for "Sinne Fianna Fáil" (laochra = "heroes", "warriors"), which is occasionally heard instead. In the Dáil in 2011 and 2012, Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan whether "Sinne Fianna Fáil" was "appropriate and correct" or had "party political connotations"; Noonan stated it was appropriate and had no such connotations, given that the translation predated the party's founding.

Ruth Sherry states that it is unclear whether the official anthem is the music alone or the text also; however, the official 1934 Estimate of the amount required ... for the acquisition by the state of copyright in the national anthem includes the line item, 'Payment to the holders of copyright in the words and music of the "Soldier's Song"' [emphasis added]. Both the English and Irish texts appear in Facts about Ireland, published by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and on the official website of the Department of the Taoiseach. However, no Irish version has been officially adopted, the state does not hold the copyright to any Irish version, and Ó Rinn, unlike Kearney and Heeney's estate, never received royalties. A memorandum in the Department of the Taoiseach on 5 April 1958 discussed five distinct Irish translations, noting that Ó Rinn's was the best known; it suggested that, if it were to be officially endorsed, the spelling and grammar should be standardised and the words "Fianna Fáil" changed to "laochra Fáil" to avoid party-political associations. Maureen O'Sullivan likewise favoured changing to "laochra Fáil".

Political implications

The lyrics of "Amhrán na bhFiann" have been criticised by some commentators for alleged outdatedness, militarism, and anti-British sentiment. Others deny such faults or attribute them to national anthems generally.

Kevin Myers described calls for it to be amended or replaced as "seasonal as spring". Questions in the Dáil have been asked by Frank MacDermot in 1932; Trevor Sargent in 1993; Derek McDowell in 1995; and John Browne in 2000. In 1995, during the Northern Ireland peace process, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation drafted an unpublished report on "obstacles to reconciliation in the Republic"; 1998 newspaper articles summarising the draft claimed it suggested "the government could commission alternative anthems for sporting and other non-official occasions" which were not "excessively militaristic". Fergus Finlay in 2007 suggested "retiring [the anthem] with honour". In a debate during the 2011 presidential election, two of the seven candidates were open to changing the anthem. Seán Gallagher suggested altering some of its lyrics.


Ulster unionists regard the anthem as specific to the Republic of Ireland, not symbolic of the whole island of Ireland. At international rugby union games played by the all-island Ireland team, the specially commissioned song "Ireland's Call" is used; "Amhrán na bhFiann" is used only within the Republic of Ireland and not abroad or at games in Northern Ireland. "Ireland's Call" has also been adopted by all-island teams in some other sports.


"Amhrán na bhFiann" is usually sung or played in march time. Different tempos may be used, however, and the verse and chorus are occasionally played. Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the Irish national broadcasting company, played an orchestral version in a slow tempo at the close of transmission from 1962 onwards. This was arranged by Brian Boydell on the advice of a Canadian consultant who said, "I wan’ it BIG! I envisage the kind of music that will stir the hearts of the Irish people". Boydell disliked the tune. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when Michelle Smith won three gold medals in swimming, the verse and chorus were played in a lively tempo.


The lyrics are those of an Irish rebel song, exhorting all Irish people to participate in the struggle to end the hegemony ("despot" over "slave") of the English ("Saxon foe") in Ireland ("Inisfail"). There are allusions to earlier Irish rebellions, and to support from Irish Americans ("from a land beyond the wave").


The chorus is the established National Anthem. Slight variations exist in published versions; the following texts are from the Department of Foreign Affairs' sheet music.

Irish version
Amhrán na bhFiann
English version
The Soldiers' Song

Sinne Fianna Fáil,
atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
thar toinn do ráinig chugainn,
Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil, chun báis nó saoil,
Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaídh amhrán na bhfiann

Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the "bearna baoil",
In Erin's cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon's roar and rifles' peal,
We'll chant a soldier's song


The anthem consists only of the chorus of the song. The original has three verses, set to a slightly different tune. The lyrics of the verses are as follows:

Amhrán na bhFiann
A Soldier's Song
Seo dhíbh, a chairde, duan Ógláigh We'll sing a song, a soldier's song
Caithréimeach bríomhar ceolmhar With cheering rousing chorus
Ár dtinte cnámh go buacach táid As round our blazing fires we throng
'S an spéir go mín réaltógach The starry heavens o'er us
Is fonnmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo Impatient for the coming fight
'S go tiúnmhar glé roimh thíocht don ló And as we await the morning's light
Fé chiúnas chaomh na hoíche ar seol Here in the silence of the night
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann We'll chant a soldier's song
Sinne Fianna Fáil... Soldiers are we...
Cois bánta réidhe, ar ardaibh sléibhe In valley green, on towering crag
Ba bhuadhach ár sinsir romhainn Our fathers fought before us
Ag lámhach go tréan fén sárbhrat séin And conquered 'neath the same old flag
'Tá thuas sa ghaoth go seolta That's proudly floating o'er us
Ba dhúchas riamh dár gcine cháidh We're children of a fighting race
Gan iompáil siar ó imirt áir That never yet has known disgrace
'S ag siúl mar iad i gcoinne námhad And as we march, the foe to face
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann We'll chant a soldier's song
Sinne Fianna Fáil... Soldiers are we...
A bhuíon nach fann d'fhuil Ghaeil is Gall Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!
Sin breacadh lae na saoirse The long-watched day is breaking
Tá sceimhle 's scanradh i gcroíthe námhad The serried ranks of Inisfail
Roimh ranna laochra ár dtíre Shall set the tyrant quaking
Ár dtinte is tréith gan spréach anois Our camp fires now are burning low
Sin luisne ghlé sa spéir anoir See in the east a silv'ry glow
'S an bíobha i raon na bpiléar agaibh Out yonder waits the Saxon foe
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann So chant a soldier's song
Sinne Fianna Fáil... Soldiers are we...

See also

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