“I” is for “Ireland”

Ireland is in my blood, literally, confirmed by DNA testing. Originally lumping Ireland and Scotland together as 58% of my DNA, the current refined Ancestry.com algorithm reports my Irish and Scots DNA separately as 48% and 26%, respectively. Despite this heritage, although I have spent a bone-chilling weekend in Edinburgh, I have yet to set foot in Ireland. What courses through my veins is their common language — poetry, folklore, and, especially, music.

On “C” day of this A to Z Challenge, I wrote about Scotland’s unofficial anthem, “Caledonia.” Today, I’m thinking of what some consider Ireland’s unofficial anthem, “Ireland’s Call.” Written by Northern Irish Derryman Phil Coulter, “Ireland’s Call” was intended to unify Ireland’s rugby fans.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) commissioned the song for the 1995 World Cup, where teams are introduced and honored by the singing of their national anthems. The IRFU team represented the entire island of Ireland, and some Northern Irish IRFU members understandably objected to using the Republic of Ireland’s national anthem, “Amhrán na bhFiann” (Irish) or “the Soldier’s Song” (English). I say “understandably” because “Amhrán na bhFiann” is a “rebel song” which became a rallying cry for the Irish Volunteers during the War for Independence from England. That War ultimately resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), with Northern Ireland remaining as part of Great Britain.

Although I know nothing about rugby, “Ireland’s Call” stirs my blood. I first heard it when Celtic Thunder’s then-music-director, Phil Coulter, revised and added it to their setlist. Ironically, CT’s only Scotsman, George Donaldson, led CT onto the stage while singing the first words. It quickly became a fan favorite, especially after it evolved into a performance full of swirling kilts.

The first of the following two “Ireland’s Call” videos shows the entire lyrics as written for the IRFU. The second shows Celtic Thunder’s original performance before the theatrical addition of kilts.

The third video is a freebie: Luke Kelly and the Dubliners’ “Song for Ireland.”



“C” is for “Caledonia”

Caledonia is the name the Romans gave to the northern part of what was then called Britannia. Although that land is now officially Scotland, Caledonia is still used in a poetic, sentimental sense. When I think of Caledonia, I am engulfed by emotion. I think of my Scottish grandmother, who passed away when my mother was only 13. I think of singer-songwriter Dougie McLean’s beautiful song “Caledonia,” written in his early 20s when he was living in France and homesick for Scotland. The first notes of the song always bring tears for other reasons as well.

I first heard “Caledonia” when the Irish group, Celtic Thunder, first appeared on PBS early in 2008. My husband found them when channel surfing one night, and we were hooked. We saw them live for the first time later that year and at least once every year until my husband passed in 2012. A staple of their show, “Caledonia” was a fan favorite both for the kilts and because the only Scotsman in the group, George Donaldson, was beloved by all. Naturally, he had a central role whenever Celtic Thunder performed it. George tragically passed away suddenly in 2014 at the age of 46, leaving his wife and young daughter.

In the first video that follows, Dougie McLean performs the song that some consider to be Scotland’s unofficial national anthem. The second is George Donaldson performing a solo acoustic version of “Caledonia.” Enjoy!