WEARING OF THE GREEN
“The Wearing of the Green” is an Irish street ballad lamenting the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It is to an old Irish air, and many versions of the lyric exist, the best-known being by Dion Boucicault. The song proclaims that “they are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green”.
The revolutionary Society of United Irishmen adopted green as its colour, and supporters wore green-coloured garments, ribbons, or cockades. In some versions, the “green” being worn is shamrock rather than fabric. Many versions of the lyric exist. The general format is that the narrator is a rebel who has left Ireland for exile and meets a public figure, who asks for news from Ireland, and is told that those wearing green are being persecuted.
Halliday Sparling’s Irish Minstrelsy (1888) includes the anonymous “Green upon the Cape”, dated to 1798. This longer poem describes the narrator’s journey into exile before reaching the elements common to later versions. The narrator is a croppy from Belfast who arrives in Paris and is questioned by “Boney” (Napoleon Bonaparte).
In an 1802 version published in Dundalk entitled “Green on my Cape”, it is Robert Emmet who meets the narrator, in Brest. Versions from the 1840s and 1850s feature Napoleon.
The best-known version is by Dion Boucicault, adapted for his 1864 play Arragh na Pogue, or the Wicklow Wedding, set in County Wicklow during the 1798 rebellion. In the second verse, Boucicault’s version recounts an encounter between the singer and Napper Tandy, an Irish rebel leader exiled in France. Boucicault claimed to have based his version on a half-remembered Dublin street ballad. His addition of the third and last verse is in notable contrast to the middle verse, in advocating emigration to America rather staying in defiance. Boucicault himself fled to New York after leaving his wife for a young actress.
Henry Grattan Curran (1800–76), son of John Philpot Curran, wrote a version of his own, and claimed the original was written in County Tipperary. Wellington Guernsey’s version was published in 1866.
Oh, 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 color can’t be seen,
For there’s a bloomin’ 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’re hanging men and women there
For wearing of the green.”
Then since the color we must wear
Is England’s cruel red,
Sure Ireland’s songs will ne’er forget
The blood that they have shed.
You may take the shamrock from your hat now,
Cast it on the sod,
But ’twill take root and flourish still,
Tho’ under foot it’s trod.
When the law can stop the blades of green
From growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summertime
Their verdue dare not show,
Then I will change the color that I
Wear in my canteen;
But ’til that day, please God, I’ll stick
To wearing of the green