‘The Soldier’s Song’ is known to have been sung by the rebels in the GPO during the Easter Rising, and later in the internment camps. This gave it a particular status amongst nationalists, leading eventually to its adoption as the national anthem of the Irish Free State in 1926.
The song text was originally written (in English) by Peadar Kearney in 1907 for Cumann na nGaedheal, and published in September 1912 in the IRB journal ‘Irish Freedom’. Set to music by Patrick Heaney, it was adopted by the Irish Volunteers as a marching song. Following the Rising the words and music were published together for the first time in December 1916. The official Irish translation ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ first appeared in ‘An t-Óglach’, the Irish army journal, in November 1923.
Once adopted as the national anthem, the music was arranged for official use by Col. Fritz Brase, founding director of the Army School of Music. His arrangements for a variety of ensembles were published by the Stationery Office in 1930. Other arrangements were commissioned by Raidió Éireann for use at the end of broadcasting each day, including one by John F. Larchet in 1954.
Probably the most familiar version of the anthem is the arrangement by Brian Boydell, composed in 1961 for the launch of RTÉ’s television service and used daily for many years at the close of transmission. Boydell was unimpressed by the tune, and sought in his arrangement to “raise its musical value and lend it some sense of dignity”. He followed the instruction of a Canadian consultant employed by RTÉ, who said: “I wan’ it BIG! I envisage the kind of music that will stir the hearts of the Irish people … I’m thinking of great rolls on the drums, stirring fanfares of trumpets and a really BIG sound”. Boydell’s arrangement certainly met these criteria, but it seems that the composer was not sufficiently proud of his achievement to retain a copy of the score: it is not included in the extensive collection of his works and papers now preserved in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library.
– Roy Stanley, Music Librarian
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