Hugh McWilliams: Peace in Erin

Were all mankind inclined like me,
To live in peace and unity,
No more contention there would be,
Among the men of Erin.

Originally we were all sprung,
From father Adam, old and young,
These words should fall from every tongue:
We will cherish peace in Erin.

We’re formed by one Deity,
To worship him, let’s all agree,
And live in peace and harmony
With every class in Erin.

On Sundays, if our paths should lie,
To Clough, or to the Glens* hard by,
Why should this weaken friendship’s tie,
Between the men of Erin!

What land can boast so pure an air;
Or men so fine, or maids so fair,
Or who was e’en renowned in war,
Above the men of Erin?

Their courage far abroad is known,
On the field of Mars their victory shone;
Then let us cultivate at home,
The laws of peace in Erin!

If fortune fair and commerce shine,
Upon my own, my native isle,
Not Egypt with her flowing Nile,
Could equal thee, dear Erin;

Your lapping lakes and flowing streams,
And verdant groves where music rings,
And health, with healing in her wings,
Would bless this land of Erin.

‘Tis principle that shows the man,
This is the one, the only plan,
And one that I have built upon,
When rambling through old Erin.

So let us, in this present day,
Cast prejudice and spleen away,
Far, far across the Atlantic Sea,
And all join hands in Erin!

This refers to the political topography of Northern Ireland. In previously planted areas, Catholics tend to live in the high ground, Protestants in the valleys and hence places of worship for Protestants are most often in the villages, for Catholics most often on the fringes – in the glens. This is a very powerful image of our division and a powerful plea for unity.

When read, this song is strong enough. When sung, it takes on an immediacy and passion which allows children and adolescents to understand its essence at one hearing and afterwards more readily listen to a fuller explanation. Teachers need such an aid.

It is now being sung throughout Ireland being as appropriate today as when first written. It was composed in 1831 by Hugh McWilliams, a hedge schoolmaster and a Catholic, who was born in Glenavy, County Antrim, about 1783 and who taught near Newtownards in County Down and in Clough in County Antrim.

Hugh had a special consciousness of the tradition of sung poetry, specifying a tune for almost all his songs. For this song he used the tune of Robert Burns’ song, ‘Now Wrestlin’ Winds and Slaughtering Guns’.

The horrifying events of the first weekend of March 2009 when terror returned to the streets of Northern Ireland and heartbreak to its homes was a depressing reminder that peace, as fine and as lovely as a precious jewel, is also as fragile as the wings of a butterfly. The message of this lovely old song needs to take root in all Irish hearts of Green and of Orange, even in those that are coldest and hardest...

Hear it sung by

Áine Uí Cheallaigh

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