“Foggy Dew” was written by Canon Charles O’Neill (1887-1963), a parish priest of Kilcoo and later Newcastle, County Down, sometime after 1919.
The music is from a manuscript that was in possession of Kathleen Dallat of Ballycastle. That manuscript gives Carl Hardebeck as the arranger. It is the same air as the traditional love song The Moorlough Shore.
This song chronicles the Easter Uprising of 1916, and encourages Irishmen to fight for the cause of Ireland, rather than for the British, as so many young men were doing in World War I.
The Foggy Dew needs to be seen against the political background in Ireland in the aftermath of the Easter Rising and World War I.
Approximately 210,000 Irishmen joined up and served in the British forces during the war. This created mixed feelings for many Irish people, particularly for those with nationalist sympathies. While they broadly supported the British war effort, they also felt that one of the moral justifications for the war, “the freedom of small nations” like Belgium and Serbia, should also be applied to Ireland, which at that time was under British rule.
In 1916, Irish nationalists led by James Connolly and Patrick Pearse decided to take advantage of the fact that Britain was pre-occupied by the war and stage a rebellion. In what became known as the Easter Rising, the rebels seized some of the major buildings in Dublin including the General Post Office.
The rebellion was quickly put down by British forces, but the rebellion and the execution of the leaders that followed, marked a turning point for many Irish people. Some had opposed the action of the rebels, but the public revulsion at the executions added to the growing sense of alienation from the British Government.
Canon O’Neill was reflecting this sense of alienation when he wrote The Foggy Dew. In 1919, he attended the first sitting of the new Irish Parliament, known as the Dail. The names of the elected members were called out, but many were absent. Their names were answered by the reply “faoi ghlas ag na Gaill” which means “locked up by the foreigner”.
It had a profound effect on O’Neill and some time after this he wrote the Foggy Dew. The song tells the story of the Easter Rising but more importantly, it tries to reflect the thoughts of many Irish nationalists at the time who had come to believe that the Irishmen who fought for Britain during the war should have stayed home and fought for Irish independence instead.
O’Neill sums up this feeling in the lines: ‘Twas far better to die ‘neath an Irish sky, Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.”
As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its dread tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o’er the Liffey’s swell rang out in the foggy dew
Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia’s Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew
Oh the night fell black, and the rifles’ crack made perfidious Albion reel
In the leaden rain, seven tongues of flame did shine o’er the lines of steel
By each shining blade a prayer was said, that to Ireland her sons be true
But when morning broke, still the war flag shook out its folds in the foggy dew
‘Twas England bade our wild geese go, that “small nations might be free”;
Their lonely graves are by Suvla’s waves or the fringe of the great North Sea.
Oh, had they died by Pearse’s side or fought with Cathal Brugha*
Their graves we’d keep where the Fenians sleep, ‘neath the shroud of the foggy dew.
Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
While the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few,
Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew
As back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.