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GUEST,Len Wallace Lyr Add: A new Irish rebel song: Starry Plough (11) A new Irish rebel song: Starry Plough 08 Aug 03

Dear Midcatters,

As someone who is often labelled an "Irish musician" here in Windsor, I often end up singing Irish rebel songs (depending on who I'm performing for) and I always wanted to write a "rebel song" about the flag called the Starry Plough and what it symbolised.

I also wanted to give an alternative historical view (one for the workers) that did not glorify simple nationalism of supposed Gaelic Ireland against the "Saxon". Nor did I want to write a song that glorified the use of violence.

The lyrics are below for your review. I've also attempted to provide chords and notes indicating melody line along with some historical notes about the verses.

(music and words by Len Wallace)

Some may speak with patriot pride
    of the Harp without the Crown
Or the day the Orange and Green went up
    and the Union Jack came down.
But the rebel flag that I hold dear
    and sing it's story now
Is the workers' flag of Freedom
    that we call the Starry Plough.

In 1913 life was hard
    in the working slums of Dublin.
The Transport Workers called a strike
    at the urging of Jim Larkin.
The bosses called a lock out and
    they starved and cut them down.
The workers lost the battle,
    but they raised the Starry Plough.

So working women, union men
    they formed the Citizen's Army
And found a leader brave and bold
    in the man they called James Connolly
Says he "We'll raise this rebel flag
    above our Liberty Hall
And march in ranks for Ireland's cause
    beneath the Starry Plough."

In 1919 Limerick workers
      rose in many numbers.
In Munster, Meath and Kildare too
    they rose up from their slumbers.
The powers of the Master class
    they did turn upside down
To break the chains of slavery
    and fly the Starry Plough.

O'Duffy and his gang of thugs
    they roamed throughout the nation.
With blueshirts and their jackboots on
    the height of nazi fashion.
Frank Ryan and his valiant band
    they took a solemn vow
to fight the bloody fascists
    and defend the Starry Plough.

The history books are filled with pages
    of the rich man's story.
Of kings and queens and generals
    and their ill-begotten glory.
But here's to the ones who fought the fight
    and rose to Freedom's call -
To the rebel workers and the flag
    We call the Starry Plough.

As an introduction to the song I play a line from the tune of "The White Cockade" and play the tune in full at the end of the song. "The White Cockade" was used as the melody for the song "The Red Flag" often instead of the tune "O Tannebaum" (or "Oh Maryland").

The original Starry Plough was a a golden plough marked with the stars of the Big Dipper resting on a field of green. It came out of the struggle of the 1913 when Dublin workers went on strike against incredibly harsh work and living conditions. The eight month battle ended in the defeat of the workers when the bosses locked them out, the families starved out and the brutality of the Peelers set upon the strikers.

The symbol was raised again by James Connolly and the Citizen's Army in 1915 and flew above their Liberty Hall prior to the Easter Rebellion in 1916 when the Citizen Army marched out to join in the ranks of the rebellion. Connolly proclaimed that "the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour and the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland" condemning the "rack-renting, slum-owning landlord" and "the sweating,profit-grinding capitalist".

The Starry Plough became the symbol of Ireland's working class and a
symbol of freedom raised 1919 (alongside the red flag) when workers in Munster, Meath, Limerick and Kildare dared to form actual councils (or soviets) to challenge the power of their bosses.

During the depression of the 1930's, the banner was raised in the
struggle against fascism when men such as Frank Ryan of the IRA
confronted the Blueshirts of General O'Duffy. A nucleus called The
Connolly Column was also formed to fight against fascism in Spain in
1936. During those years the Starry Plough's colors were changed to the simple silver stars on blue and became the official banner of Ireland's labour movement.


Some may speak with / patriot pride of the / D / D /
Harp without the / Crown / G A / D /
Or the day the Orange and / Green went up and the / D / D /
Union Jack came / down. But the / G A / D /
rebel flag that / I hold dear and / Bm F#m / Bm /
sing it's story / now is the / G A / D /
workers' flag of / Freedom that we / D / D /
call the Starry / Plough. / G A / D

Played in march tempo, 4/4 time.

D... D.. D.... C#B A-F#.... D.... E F#
Some may speak with pa-triot pride of the
G    E C# E   D
Harp without the Crown
D   D   D D    D    C#B A    F#   D
Or the day the Orange and Green went up
E   F# G E C#   E    D
and the Union Jack came down.
E   E   F# D F#   A    D D    B
But the rebel flag that I hold dear
C#B C#   A    B G# A
and sing it's story now
D D   D       C#   B A F#
Is the workers' flag of Freedom
D    EF# G   E   C# E D
that we call the Starry Plough.

Len Wallace

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