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This Friday, March 17th, this reporter will join millions of people in the USA who will be wearing green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They probably won’t remember why they will be sporting the color green because Americans just like to celebrate any occasion.
I, for one, also love to celebrate outstanding days on the calendar. “The Wearing of the Green” is an Irish street ballad that most of us have heard during our lifetime. It laments the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The ballad is to the tune of an old Irish song and many versions of the lyrics exist, the best-known by Dion Boucicault. The song proclaims that “they are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green.”
The song recounts the ridiculous lengths the British were prepared to go to in a desperate attempt to suppress Irish nationalism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The color green had already assumed a symbolic significance in Ireland by that time. This was largely because it was the color of the shamrock, which itself was supposedly used by St. Patrick to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Napper Tandy, who is referred to in the song, was an Irish rebel leader at the time of the 1798 Rebellion. He was exiled following the failure of the rebellion and died in France in 1803.
Judy Garland made the ballad popular in 1940 and Gerald O’Hara sang parts of the ballad in Gone with the Wind as he escorted his daughters to a barbeque.
O Paddy dear, and did you hear the news that’s going round?
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground;
St. Patrick’s Day no more we’ll keep; his colors can’t be seen:
For there’s a bloody law agin’ the wearing of the green.
I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand,
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland and how does she stand?”
She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen:
They are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green.
Oh, if the color we must wear is England’s cruel red,
Sure Ireland’s sons will ne’er forget the blood that they have shed.
You may take the shamrock from your hat and cast it on the sod,
But ‘twill take root and flourish there, though under foot ‘tis trod.
When law can stop the blades of grass from growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summertime their verdure dare not show,
Then I will change the color I wear in my caubeen;
But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to wearing of the green.
But if at last our color should be torn from Ireland’s heart,
Her sons with shame and sorrow from the dear old isle will part;
I’ve heard a whisper of a country that lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom’s day.
O Erin, must we leave you, driven by a tyrant’s hand?
Must we ask a mother’s blessing from a strange and distant land?
Where the cruel cross of England shall nevermore be seen,
And where, please God, we’ll live and die, still wearing of the green.