Sing For Your Vote | A History of Irish Political Campaign Ballads
In 1918 a campaign song was written by an anonymous author for the General Election of that year. ‘The Sinn Feiners Election Song’ appeared on a ballad sheet which sold for a penny on the streets of Dublin. With the same air as ‘The Boys of Wexford’ it was meant to accompany the Sinn Fein candidates on the campaign trail but with so many other patriotic numbers such as Peadar Kearney’s ‘Soldiers Song’ being more popular, ‘The Sinn Feiners Election Song’ failed to catch on. Still, it can be considered the first in a long line of musical attempts at grabbing voters attention throughout the electoral ages.
In 1923 an IRA prisoner in the Curragh wrote a campaign song for Eamon de Valera. Jack O’Sheehan was in Hare Park internment camp in the Curragh when he wrote and composed ‘The Legion of the Rearguard’ for Dev who was standing against W.T Cosgrave during that years general election. It was published in print one year later and by 1927 it was adopted by the Fianna Fail party as their anthem.
The Labour party also have an anthem in the form of ‘The Red Flag’. This was written by Meath native Jim Connell in 1889 and is also popular with the British Labour party, but individual labourites have taken it upon themselves in recent years to produce their own election soundtracks. In 2009 when Labour’s Alan Kelly was on the prowl for a European seat he did so with the aid of a rather naff rap song entitled ‘Don’t Make the Wrong Choice – Vote Alan Kelly’ written and performed by Cork rap artist G.M.C.
In 2011 independent candidate John Dillon from Limerick hit the canvass complete with a rockabilly western soundtrack. The Dillon campaign song targeted the dire economic situation and although he didn’t get elected, his song is still talked about in parts of Limerick, and little wonder when you consider some of the lyrics:
I lost my job,/
I’m on the dole,/
The bankman says ‘You’re out on your hole.’
In 2007 independent candidate John Bracken from Offaly also set his campaign to a western sound with a song informing the electorate “sure he’s your only man!” The Clara candidate, like Dillon in Limerick, also failed to get elected.
In 2011 Tipperary ears were accosted by Mattie McGrath’s campaign song ‘Our Guy, Your Guy.’ It contained such poetic lines like “Mattie is the peoples choice. Put him in the Dail, won’t that be nice?” Well, the people of the Premier County must have thought it nice indeed because that’s exactly where they put him.
Cathal Dunne who represented Ireland in the Eurovision in 1979 went on to represent Fianna Fail in the singing stakes when he sang the party’s campaign song in 1981. The nephew of Jack Lynch sang an ultra cheesy ballad called ‘We’ll be There – a Song for Fianna Fail’. This drawl ballad had lyrics such as:
We’ve been there, we’ve been needed,/
We have fought and we’ve succeeded,/
We’ll be there in the future as we were in the past.
In the 1977 General Election Fianna Fail launched a campaign verging on the glitz and glamour side of things. The party took to the hustings with flashy tour buses, helicopters, stickers, buttons, hats and of course a specially commissioned campaign song. The 1977 election was the first since the voting age was reduced to 18 and the Fianna Fail machine targeted the youth vote by recruiting Colm Wilkinson to sing a campaign pop song called ‘Your Kind of Country’. RTE prevented the song from hitting its airwaves and CIE also banned it’s drivers from playing it due to their neutral political stance, but many have since commented that it had more to do with the pure awfulness of the song rather than political neutrality.
When Bertie Aherne took the Fianna Fail reigns in the early 90s, the party commissioned a song in his honour. Titled ‘The Man they call Aherne’, it was debuted at a Fianna Fail rally in the National Stadium in March 1995 but it was never recorded and never sung again thereafter because it proved too identical to a similar leader-worshipping song from a previous time in Irish politics called ‘Arise and Follow Charlie’.
In 1981 The Morrissey’s recorded what can be only considered the most infamous Irish campaign song of all time. ‘Arise and Follow Charlie’ became a rallying, chest-beating ballad for those intense admirers of Charles Haughey during the tense political atmosphere of the 1980s. With its marching tone and heroic lyrics, it went down a storm with the lyrics declaring:
Hail the leader, hail the man,/
With freedoms cause it all began,/
With Irish pride in every man,/
We’ll rise and follow Charlie.”
In today’s electioneering world Twitter and Facebook are used to espouse a candidates message where lyrics and melody once had the power to do, but sometimes a campaign song can prove entertaining as a novelty side show to an otherwise serious political campaign.