‘The Green Fields of France’ was written to combat anti-Irish prejudice in the UK says songwriter

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Buttes New British Cemetery First World War

The classic song ‘The Green Fields of France’ was written with the intention of tackling anti-Irish prejudice in the UK.

Anti-Irish sentiment was high in the UK during the 1970s following a bombing campaign by the IRA. In 1974, Birmingham and Guildford were bombed by the IRA.

Buttes New British Cemetery First World War

When singer-songwriter Eric Bogle wrote anti-war song ‘The Green Fields of France’ in 1975, he wanted to address this and remind the British that the Irish fought alongside them during First World War.

The song takes place at a soldier’s grave side and sees the singer wonder what sort of life the soldier may have had before he died in the war.

Bogle chose the very Irish name ‘Willie McBride’ for the soldier in order to remind people that thousands of Irishmen died fighting for Britain.

He said: “The Irish were not flavour of the month in the UK. A lot of Irishmen died preserving the British Empire during World War I. The reasons they fought and died was rarely to preserve the British Empire. It was a bit of fun, adventure and a way to making a living.

“Nonetheless, a lot of them died. It was a wee reminder that they weren’t all Tommy Atkins (the generic name for English soldiers at the time).”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) listed five soldiers named William McBride who died in France in the Great War.

Three of them have no grave and are named on memorials to the missing.

One was Private William McBride of the 9th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He came from Lislea, Armagh and was killed on April 22nd, 1916.

He is buried in Authuile Military Cemetery in northern France.

He is the one who most resembles the soldier in Bogle’s song – although he was 21 rather than 19 when he died.

Take a look at videos of the Dropkick Murphys, and the Fureys and Davey Arthur and the High Kings performing The Green Fields of France.


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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling