A Nation Once Again

Song written in the 1840s by Thomas Davis. From the 1880s onwards, it became an unofficial anthem of nationalist Ireland.

The song's narrator, inspired by deeds of ancient Greece and Rome (Thermopylae and Horatio at the bridge), exhorts his listeners to the "Godly" cause of Ireland's freedom: "And righteous men must make our land a nation once again." It's a rousing tune, the repetitions in the chorus heightening intent; a fine example of Irish rebel music, albeit with less violent anti-British feeling than usual.

In 2002, "A Nation Once Again" was voted the world's most popular song by a BBC World Service poll of listeners.

A Nation Once Again

A Nation Once Again

When boyhood's fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

And from that time, through wildest woe,
That hope has shone a far light,
Nor could love's brightest summer glow
Outshine that solemn starlight;
It seemed to watch above my head
In forum, field and fane,
Its angel voice sang round my bed,
A Nation once again!

It whisper'd too, that freedom's ark
And service high and holy,
Would be profaned by feelings dark
And passions vain or lowly;
For, Freedom comes from God's right hand,
And needs a Godly train;
And righteous men must make our land
A Nation once again!

So, as I grew from boy to man,
I bent me to that bidding
My spirit of each selfish plan
And cruel passion ridding;
For, thus I hoped some day to aid,
Oh, can such hope be vain?
When my dear country shall be made
A Nation once again!
Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis

Thomas Davis (1814-1845) was a leader of the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s – a grouping of gentlemanly revolutionaries, similar to the "Young" nationalist movements that appeared throughout Europe in the period. Its aims, as usual, were an independent Ireland: it was defeated as much by the Great Famine of 1847-50 as by its own ineptitude, which culminated in 1848 in the Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch.

But Davis, who had died of scarlet fever three years before this, was far more poet than revolutionary. He wrote many stirring ballads, all with the aim of celebrating Irish identity. This identity, for Davis, was less a matter of culture or blood – he himself was a Protestant of immediate Welsh ancestry – than a matter of the will: a willingness to identify with an Irish nation that could be Gaelic, Saxon or Viking; Catholic, Protestant or dissenter.

"In his view Ireland was a spiritual reality based on historic cultural tradition, and anyone who adopted Ireland as his homeland, regardless of his religion or when he arrived, was Irish." – Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture: Thomas Davis.