I was in conversation a few days ago with a Joe Jencks, a very passionate and talented singer/songwriter who can also tout his fair share of Erin’s heritage. He spoke of a recent house party at which the host made multiple requests that he sing some of the old Irish drinking songs. Rather than regale his parlor audience with those raucous strains, he chose instead to give his host a history lesson.
By his account, those particular songs only speak to the diabolical behavior of the British during the Great Famine of the 19th century in which the English government kept a starving population from engaging in a violent civil uprising by keeping them pleasantly plied on whiskey and beer. While there is probably some degree of truth in that particular point of view, there are many political, social and economic factors that fueled this terrible human tragedy. During the famine years, Ireland was in fact a net exporter of food to England. And during the first nine months of what was to become known as “Black 47” the actual export of grain distilled spirits from Ireland was 1,336,220 gallons.
This great starvation was not a matter of there not being enough food, but instead it was a matter of there not being enough human compassion coupled to an over abundance of prejudice and greed.
So it would still be my inclination to stand my round and to sing those merry songs that may have been rooted in a very sad bit of Irish history.
We wish all of our friends and readers a very joyous St. Patrick’s Day!
And to help you along with the festivities of the day we invite to listen to and download some of our favorite Celtic artists from our podcasts at Sit Downs and Sessions.