Dáil Éireann - Volume 50 - 22 November, 1933

In Committee on Finance. - Vote 75—National Anthem.

Minister for Finance (Mr. MacEntee): I move:—

Go ndeontar suim na raghaidh thar £1,200 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh Márta, 1934, chun go bhfuigheadh an Stát Cóipcheart sa Rosc Náisiúnta.

That a sum not exceeding £1,200 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1934, for the Acquisition by the State of Copyright in the National Anthem.

This Estimate is introduced to give effect to an agreed settlement to copyright proceedings initiated in respect to the performance in theatres and elsewhere of the National Anthem, that is to say, the “Soldier's Song.” As some Deputies may not be aware of the position in regard to the Anthem, I may say that the music of the “Soldier's Song” was informally adopted by the then Government as the National Anthem for use within the State in May, 1924. On 12th July, 1926, the Executive Council formally ruled that the “Soldier's Song” should be used as the National Anthem of An Saorstát for all purposes at home and abroad.

Mr. MacDermot: When was this, did the Minister say?

Mr. MacEntee: On 12th July, 1926, for all purposes, as I have said, at home and abroad.

Mr. Dillon: Including South Down?

Mr. MacEntee: It is not the first time that the “Soldier's Song” was sung in South Down.

[409] Mr. Dillon: I sincerely trust not.

Mr. MacEntee: And not the first time that it grated on the ears of Deputy Dillon either. This decision, however, was not gazetted or otherwise formally promulgated at the time but was simply put into effect for official purposes. On the 20th July, 1926, the then Minister for Defence, in reply to a question raised by Deputy O.G. Esmonde in the Dáil, stated that the “Soldier's Song” was the National Anthem. On the 12th March, 1929, a band arrangement, prepared by Colonel Fritz Brasé, Director of the Army School of Music, was approved by the Executive Council as the official arrangement of the National Anthem, and on the 19th February, 1932, Colonel Brasé was instructed to prepare scores for orchestral and other purposes.

The music of the “Soldier's Song,” it is generally understood, was composed at the end of 1909, or the beginning of 1910, by a Mr. Patrick Heeney, and the words were written at the same time, it is believed, by Mr. Peadar O Cearnaigh. Mr. Heeney died in 1911 and it is his legal personal representative who is interested, with Mr. O Cearnaigh, in the agreement which has been arrived at and in respect of which this Estimate is being brought in. Throughout the period of 1924 and 1932 Mr. O Cearnaigh several times put forward claims for royalties in respect of the performing and publishing rights of the song, and these claims were brought to a head finally in 1932 when Mr. O Cearnaigh joined with the personal representative of the late Mr. Heeney and threatened to bring proceedings against all persons who performed the work or printed the music unless payments were made to them of the royalties which they claimed. In pursuance of this, the Directors of the Army and Gárda Síochána Bands, the Director of the Broadcasting Station, and the managements of the various theatres and cinemas in Dublin were communicated with by the solicitors for Messrs. O Cearnaigh and Heeney, and, ultimately, proceedings were taken by them against the Dublin Theatre Co., Ltd., to obtain an injunction to restrain [410] them from infringing the copyright which they claimed, and claiming damages for alleged previous infringements.

It seemed most desirable that the copyright of the National Anthem should vest in the State and it was deemed inexpedient that an action such as this should proceed in the courts. Accordingly, the Executive Council authorised the Attorney-General to endeavour to acquire on behalf of the State any rights possessed by Messrs. O Cearnaigh and Heeney in the Anthem. After negotiation, and the Attorney-General having satisfied himself that Messrs. O Cearnaigh and Heeney had shown a good title to the rights in the Anthem, a settlement was arrived at in the following terms:—

(1) That the Minister for Finance should pay £980 to Messrs. Peadar O Cearnaigh and Michael Heeney;

(2) That the Minister should pay £20 to the Talbot Press, Ltd., Dublin;

(3) That the Minister should pay £150 to Messrs. Miley and Miley in full satisfaction of their costs;

(4) That the Minister should pay £50 to Messrs. O'Hanlon and Robinson, Solicitors for the Dublin Theatre Company, in full satisfaction of their costs;

(5) That Messrs. O Cearnaigh and Heeney and the Talbot Press, Ltd., should cede all rights in the “Soldier's Song” to the Minister, should stay the action against the Dublin Theatre Company, and should agree to take no further proceedings in respect of breach of copyright or of royalties claimed; that the Talbot Press, Ltd., should be allowed to dispose of, for their own profit and without payment of any further royalties, any stock of the “Soldier's Song” printed by them and in existence at the time of settlement.

An agreement embodying the settlement was executed by the parties on 20th October, 1933.

Having regard to the facts that (1) the negotiations had been of a protracted nature, (2) that the settlement arrived at was satisfactory to all concerned [411] and that, consequently, the disposal of the whole matter by immediate payment was desirable, (3) that the deed of transfer signed on 20th October recited that the money due under the deed had been paid over, (4) that at that date the Dáil was not due to reassemble for nearly a month, and (5) that the necessary Estimate would more than likely be non-contentious it was decided that recourse should be had to the Contingency Fund to enable an immediate payment to be made. Payment was accordingly issued on 26th October. The Estimate now presented is for authority to repay the sum of £1,200 to the Contingency Fund.

Mr. MacDermot: I am not opposing this Estimate, although, speaking purely as an individual and not as representing my Party, I frankly confess that the action we are taking, whereby we adopt, perhaps more formally than it has been adopted hitherto, the “Soldier's Song” as the National Anthem, is one which costs me a certain pang. That is not at all because of the associations of the “Soldier's Song.” As I understand it, the “Soldier's Song” was composed somewhere about 1911 and was the marching song of the Irish Volunteers from the time they were created, as a result of the movement in Ulster known as the Ulster Volunteer Movement. I think that, with that history, nobody would have a right to complain on the score of its associations about the “Soldier's Song” being the National Anthem or a National Anthem. The reason that I regret its adoption as the one official National Anthem is that I think that both the words and the music are unworthy of the high position that is being assigned to it. One would like to see a tune or a song of that kind preserved for sentimental reasons, in the same way as one who had fought in the European War in the British Army would perhaps wish to see “It's a Long Way to Tipperary” preserved for sentimental reasons. Although, however, one may feel [412] warmly over a tune of that kind because of its associations, it does not follow that it should be erected into the dignity of a National Anthem. 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. We have got a wide range of genuinely Gaelic melodies to choose from, and whether we want an air that is brisk and martial or an air that is tender and melancholy or one that is grave and majestic, we can find it. We could find a National Anthem that corresponded much more nearly to our desire to develop Gaelic civilisation in this country and one also that corresponded to the antiquity of this country and the antiquity of our struggle for self-government.

After all, the Volunteer Movement and the Sinn Féin Movement whether one approves of the whole of it or not —and, of course, my views about the Sinn Féin Movement are well known— were just an episode in the long struggle for self-government. Therefore, it is not either logical or necessary that the marching song that prevailed during those few years has now to be adopted as our only permanent National Anthem. As I said, I am not opposing this Estimate, but I venture to repeat a suggestion that I put forward before: That a committee be appointed from the Oireachtas to consider the selection of another National Anthem not necessarily to take the place of this but to exist alongside it. It is not necessary to have only one National Anthem. England has two or three; she has “God Save the King,” “Rule Britannia” and “Land of Hope and Glory.” The Germans have two or three: “Deutschland Uber Alles,” “Die Wacht am Rhein” and now they have the Nazi song, which I think is called the “Horst Wessel Song.” The United States of America has two: “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Sweet Land of Liberty” and so forth. I would like to suggest that a committee be appointed to select an old Gaelic air worthy of the country [413] and that we should have that set up as a National Anthem alongside the other. If proper words for that melody do not exist, if the old words, as for example in “O'Donnell Abu” have relation to one family or district, then suitable words could be provided. We have Irish living poets both in Gaelic and in English and a version in each language could be wedded to the melody chosen. I put forward that suggestion and I would be glad if the Minister for Finance would give it sympathetic consideration.

Dr. O'Higgins: I congratulate the Minister for Finance and the Executive Council generally in bringing this matter to its present position. I think it is only right and proper that when an article is turned out by a person whether poor or wealthy and when that article is generally used by the people the manufacturer or producer should receive reasonable compensation. We are not just examining, with a microscope, particular words and notes contained in what has been adopted by the people, and what is now called our National Anthem.

This particular song was adopted as the National Anthem by the Executive Council in 1926. Before the Executive Council adopted it as a National Anthem, it was adopted by the people, and so, the act of the Executive Council at the time coincided with the general wish of the people. I think if any National Anthem was to be subjected to microscopic examination there would be a number of individuals found with something to complain of either about the words or the notes. 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 “Soldier's 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 [414] people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council, and I wish heartily to approve of the Minister's proposal here to-day to compensate the authors of this Anthem.

General Mulcahy: I would ask the Minister for Finance not to jump too quickly at Deputy MacDermot's proposal for a committee to find out a new National Anthem for us. I think I have complained before that neither the poets nor the musicians came along in great numbers during the time we needed a National Anthem. I am not blaming the poets, they might not have been able to do so at the time. I do not think that even the Minister for Finance himself was driven to poetry by the atmosphere of that time. I do not think you are going in any way to make a National Anthem except the anthem the people give you. If anyone thinks they want a better National Anthem than we have, I think we ought to delay it until we have raised the standard of music and musical construction in the country. I do not think, such as our musical establishments are, with the Government grants reduced, that we have yet achieved the musical training and education so necessary for the country. At a time when there is so very little systematically being done in the schools for music I do not think we should set up such a committee. We ought to begin and change all that and see that something more is done in the schools for musical education than is being done at the present time.

Mr. Anthony: I do not want to see as many National Anthems as there are national armies here. Also I would remind the House that we are getting into the habit of perpetuating ugly incidents and memories. If we are to submit our present National Anthem, both words and music, to any kind of examination we would want a very big microscope. I suggest this committee is essential if we are to live up to the tradition taught in our school days that in the past we were celebrated in song and story. Surely anyone with the most elementary knowlege of music and especially traditional Irish music could not for a moment suggest [415] that the music of the “Soldier's Song” is either inspiring or even musical. I am not going to suggest a particular form of words. Deputy Corish might like “The Boys of Wexford.” I might suggest the “Boys of Cork” for a National Anthem, but I suggest that we have old traditional words and melodies to be found in the Bunting collection, for example, that are quite inspiring and martial. “We are soldiers of a fighting race.” That is a line from the song.

I see nothing wrong with “Let Erin Remember.” I think all parties could unite in adopting an air of that kind and the words of “Let Erin Remember” as a National Anthem. I say that with all seriousness. There is nothing of a partisan character in either the words or the music. “The Boys of Wexford” had a partisan flavour at one time, and so had “God Save Ireland.” I can well remember reading about the anti-Parnellites adopting “God Save Ireland,” and the Parnellites adopting “The Boys of Wexford.” I do not wish to disrespect in any way the ability of either the composer of the music or the author of the words, but I feel that the whole thing is an abomination to any one who knows anything about music. Another suggestion has been made here by, I think, Deputy General Mulcahy, that it was the people's song at the time. We do know that the people sang, right through the Great War, abominations in poetry and music, and any of them has not been adopted by Great Britain as a National Anthem. I have hopes that some musician and some poet will collaborate one day, and give us a National Anthem something like the “Marseillaise.” Awaiting that time, there is something in the suggestion that a committee should be set up to enquire whether we cannot get something that would bear greater relation to the traditions of Irish music and Irish poetry than the “Soldier's Song.”

Mr. MacDermot: If I might intervene on a point of personal explanation, I want to make it clear that my proposal was not that a committee should be set [416] up to find something to substitute for the “Soldier's Song”, but to find a second national anthem, and that anyone who wished to play or sing the national anthem could have his choice as to what particular one he would use.

Mr. Norton: I liked very much more the ring of the speeches made by Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Mulcahy than I did the speech made by Deputy MacDermot. So far as I could gather from his words, he described the National Anthem, the “Soldier's Song”, as a kind of jaunting piece of vulgarity. I do not know whether the remaining members of his party, in particular Deputy Mulcahy, Deputy O'Higgins, and Deputy Séan MacEoin if he were here, would agree with the statement that the “Soldier's Song” is just a jaunting piece of vulgarity.

Mr. MacDermot: I did not say “just”.

Mr. Norton: The Deputy did not say “just a jaunting piece of vulgarity”? He said it was a “jaunting piece of vulgarity.”

Mr. MacDermot: What I said was “jaunty”, and I said from a musical and literary point of view. I also said I did not wish for a moment to deprecate its associations.

Mr. Norton: Nobody listening to the Deputy's speech had any hesitation in the world in making up his mind that what the Deputy really wants to do is to get rid of the “Soldier's Song” as a National Anthem. The portion of his speech which suggested setting up a committee either to advise a new national anthem, a second national anthem, or an agreed national anthem, is really an effort to get a committee set up for the purpose of doing away with the present National Anthem.

Mr. MacDermot: No.

Mr. Norton: The Deputy's sentiments, as expressed in his speech, are capable of no other interpretation.

Mr. MacDermot: That is not so.

Mr. Norton: We have had a discourse on words and music from both Deputy MacDermot and Deputy Anthony. Everybody knows perfectly well that national anthems are never devised [417] with an eye to getting perfect music or perfect words. Least of all in nations which have regained their freedom is any attempt ever made to produce a national anthem which reflects perfection from the point of view of music or from the point of view of words. Every subject people who fought for liberty in all times and in all parts of the world have always, as Deputy O'Higgins suggested, got their national anthem out of the period in which they fought for their liberty. “The Soldier's Song” was written when this nation was passing through a period of trial and tribulation. It undoubtedly then reflected the hopes and aspirations of our people, and no matter how much the members of that once great Party, the Sinn Féin Party, may be divided to-day, there are nevertheless people in this House who are always glad to look back with pride to the period when they could always assemble and march to the martial strains of “The Soldier's Song” in this country. It reflected the hopes and aims and aspirations of our people. If it was good enough to reflect our hopes, our aims and ambitions in that period of trial and tribulation it ought to be good enough for us to-day in the year 1933. I see no reason whatever—without claiming to be an authority on music—why we should depart from or in any way try to slight or deprecate either the martial strain of “The Soldier's Song” or the spirit which is enshrined in every verse of that song. It reflects the aims and aspirations of our people, and until such time as those aims and aspirations are fully satisfied there is at least no need to change the words of the song, and I do not know that any case whatever has been made for changing the music.

When Deputy MacDermot was speaking it seemed to me that he wanted a few Soldiers' Songs, so that those who did not know where they stand politically might have a safe retreat. Some of them could sing one kind of song and feel that they were national, while others could sing another kind of song to indicate their political feelings. If there is a case for a national anthem it is a case for one national anthem—a national anthem [418] which will be free from all party politics, a national anthem which, whatever its period may be, will at least inspire in all of us an admiration and a veneration for this historic nation of ours.

Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: It seems to me that while we are here a sovereign assembly there are certain things which no sovereign assembly can do. One of them is to order the people of the country what songs they are going to sing. I think you will find that persons who wish to sing will sing songs of their own choice, and not the songs which are laid down by any legislation of this House. In consequence, I believe that if you did, here in this House, elect that there should be some other song, or some other air chosen as a national anthem, it simply would not work. You might on State occasions have your bands playing, by order, that particular air, but it would not be in reality the national anthem, because the national anthem is, and must be in its nature, the song which the people of the country regard as their national anthem. As has already been pointed out, national anthems are not written to order. Nowhere have they been written to order or adopted by Governments in the first instance. They have always come naturally and spontaneously. Take for instance the “Watch on the Rhine” or the “Marseillaise”; the former has come from a certain time in the history of Germany, and the latter from a certain period in French history. The people of the country concerned adopted them. The “Marseillaise” was put in the background in France for a period, but came out again because it was the wish of the French people that it should be their national anthem. Even if it were desirable, I think it would be utterly impossible to change the views of the majority of the people of this State as to what ought to be the national anthem. I am perfectly satisfied that “The Soldier's Song” is going to continue to be the national anthem, and that even if we wished to change it—which I personally do not think desirable—we could not do it.

General Mulcahy: I wish to raise a small point in connection with this [419] matter. In most of the houses of entertainment in the city the national anthem is played, usually at the end of the performance. I know of, at least, one house of entertainment where the musicians have to remain over until the end of the performance to do so. I think it would be appreciated by a certain number of workers, who have long hours, if it could be intimated to such houses of entertainment that there is no derogation of the position of the national anthem in such cases by having it played at the opening of the performance, whether at 7.30 or 8 o'clock, as is the case in many places. There is a mistaken idea that the anthem has to be played at the end of a performance, and for that purpose the musicians have to stay later than usual.

Vote put and agreed to.