The following article first featured in the Gaelic American and is syndicated with permission of the author.

After the Irish women’s soccer team was taped singing “Celtic Symphony” a couple of months ago, and more recently the Leinster Rugby stadium played “Celtic Symphony” last week, the press has attacked those singing the song and derided the offensiveness of the song, in which the lyrics “up the ‘ra” feature heavily.

The song was written by The Wolfe Tones to show support for the Celtic Football Club, whose supporters are traditionally Irish Republicans. The song has been a mainstay of Irish music for upwards of 40 years, yet now in an era of censorship, individuals have called for the “Rebel Song” to be banned or at the very least maligned publicly – this policy is repugnant in a republican society, itself founded by people who used “offensive speech.”

A century ago in the United States, a similar scene existed.

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key was a prisoner while the Battle of Fort McHenry was waged, and after witnessing the fort’s bombardment but the American flag still flying, he was inspired to write the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was a patriotic tune known to many, but it was not immediately made the national anthem.

The “Star Spangled Banner” was one of several unofficial national anthems; among the others were “Hail Columbia”, “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)”, and “America the Beautiful”.  While these anthems were patriotic to an extent, the historical focus of the “Star Spangled Banner” being interpreted as anti-British led to its being unpreferred by Anglophiles. 

This led to the song being left out partially or completely by certain books. In an effort to restore knowledge of the full four verses of the “Star Spangled Banner,” the early 20th century saw the emergence of the Star Spangled Banner Association. As the association grew, it began advocating for the “Star Spangled Banner” to become the national anthem.

The most prominent member of the Star Spangled Banner Association was Thomas P. Tuite. Born to Irish “Famine” immigrants in Ohio ca.1849, he was a decorated member of the Detroit Fire Dept., and later joined FDNY. He fought with the Union Army when he was just 14, and when he was 18 he sailed to Ireland to take part in the Fenian Rising – to put it bluntly he had no sympathy for the British Empire.

At a hearing in 1922, where he was encouraging New York officials to teach the “Star Spangled Banner” in their curriculum, he was verbally attacked by some committee members:

Despite 60 years [he was actually 73], spectacles, grey hair, and small physique, Mr. Tuite of the Star-Spangled Banner Association agreed three times during the meeting to “take on” a robust young man who tried to foist a British ancestry on the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Mr. Tuite’s resentment reached its zenith when an attempt was made to question whether he was really the head of the Star-Spangled Banner Association after all.

“I’ll take you on right now,” he shouted across benches of spectators.  Commissioner Hirshfield pounded his gavel and issued excited orders to a policeman in attendance.

“Or I’ll take you on,” exclaimed Mr. Tuite again, lifting his spectacles and addressing Telfair Minton, who had insinuated that the head of the Star-Spangled Banner Association was ignorant of the genesis of both the words and music of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’

“I’ll take both of you on,” was the final offer of the veteran, and there the matter rested until a few minutes later, when he and Kinnicutt clashed in the doorway, while half the crowd was outside.  After some bitter words the veteran exclaimed:

“You wouldn’t read it as an American, anyway.  You’re not an American. You’re a Britisher.”

“You’re a liar,” replied Kinnicutt.

The little gray-haired man landed a blow on Kinnicutt’s jaw with unexpected force, especially considering that he had to stand on tiptoe to deliver it, for his opponent is some three inches taller than six feet…”

Tuite frequently led walkouts of events that refused to sing the entirety of the “Star Spangled Banner.” In 1926, at a gathering of a religious group called the Port Society, the event’s organiser said there would be no playing of the national anthem because “those words in the third verse are unfair to England. 

They were written when we were at war with England, and they were written in a spirit of hatred. They are not pretty at all.” Tuite called on all good Americans to leave the event, and many followed. He fully believed in the right of America to assert its nationhood in song and verse, even if the words were “not pretty.” His enthusiastic conviction in the right to free speech, the right to offend, and the right to protest led to Congress and the President adopting the “Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem in 1931.

In a 1985 debate, American jurist Alan Dershowitz best described the right to the freedom of speech and by extension the right to offend: “One of the rights under the First Amendment is the right to inflict emotional damage on people! When I write an article critical of President Reagan, I want to inflict emotional damage on him! I want him to sit there and say ‘oh my God people are discovering what I’m really doing…’” 

His example was particularly representative of how important the right to offend is in political debate – if the right to offend people is lost, we have lost the right to freely debate. That right is justly enshrined in the First Amendment, derived from republican theorists like Voltaire who said “I might not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.

The right to offend someone with the singing of “Celtic Symphony” is therefore inherent, but even if one were to find that “Celtic Symphony” were offensive, what would be an appropriate recourse? 

Should the signing of songs that cause offence result in a fine or arrest?

The question then arises, what to do with the British national anthem? If we were to consider a body count of organisations that caused starvation, slavery, and slaughter, the British Empire is probably second to none, yet there is never a consideration of banning “God Save the Queen/King.”

Such a ban would not be desirable to republicans because it would encroach on a royalist’s right to free speech. Further, it would be nonsensical to suggest that the British government might reconsider their national anthem – it is their chosen song and does not represent their detractors.

During The Troubles, rebel songs and Irish Republican politicians were banned from the radio and TV, and in the revolutionary period those who dared sing a rebel song could be jailed under the Defense of the Realm Act. In the days of the Fenians, too, the singing of a rebel song was grounds for arrest. One hopes such a situation would never arise again, but with the rising popularity of hate speech legislation in Europe, it is unfortunately a strong possibility.

Posted by James McGlashin


  1. One was a war.. soldier on soldier, the other was bullshit.. in fact, let’s look at how dissent within our society was stifled. Complete retcon nonsense.


  2. I’m not in favour of banning songs or any speech, as it just pushes things underground, and in any case compelled speech is atrocious. The wider question is why the Irish are so mired in hatred towards England. There is a kind of obsession with England. The statement in the article above that the British Empire was unique in its support for barbarity, slavery, brutality etc is factually false. You would be lucky if you were conquered by the British and not others. (Not to forget that the British Army included a large contingent of Irish soldiers, often a third or more of the army.)

    I’ve been told the Potato Famine was genocide (not so – it was a potato blight), that 1m died of lack of food (not so – 45,000 did, with 55,000 dying of scurvy and 900,000 of disease, as is the case with nearly all famines in history), that Britain did nothing to help the dying (not so – in an age where there was no welfare state, and people were allowed to die in England in appalling circumstances, children who worked 20 hours a day in English factories and whose limbs were deformed having “grown” into the machines, as it were, did launch a relief programme). The Irish don’t realise that the last famine in Europe was in Finland 1866-1868, when 1 in 12 died, and the Finnish government did not a thing to help, in case spending money would raise interest rates. The Irish were on plots of land that were not growing any bigger, but reproducing exponentially, with no investment in the land at all. Land that support 8 people can’t support 16, 32, 64, 128 without a problem eventually. The Irish land was only taken over because of the constant uprisings in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Irish overplayed their hand by seeking to introduce French troops into Ireland in a way that threatened Britain.

    In the 20th century, the Irish had the bright idea of an uprising in 1916 in the middle of the First World War – a real stab in the back. It is a matter of historical record that the people of Dublin were disgusted by this. Bishops of the RC Church including Bishop Moriarty in Kerry opposed rabble rousing and terrorism. In the modern period, the Irish pretended that the IRA was a homegrown organisation from the Falls Road in Belfast. Actually, as the Irish Times has shown, it was set up and funded by the Dublin government. Ireland is an exporter of terrorism. During the Brexit negotiations, Varadkar (a man who is not Irish) threatened to back a resumption of terrorism….

    The Irish are a vindictive race, and have repeatedly refused to seek a relationship of friendship with the country next door. After WW2, the French and Germans became allies. Ireland is an out-and-out enemy of England for no discernible reason. Ireland’s prosperity flows from the English language in Ireland, and British subsidies through the European Union, which were at such a level that if Britain had received net contributions at the same level of GDP we would have been able to cancel capital gains tax altogether. Ireland is substantially wealthier than Britain now. I don’t know if that percolates down to all working-class Irishmen, or maybe stays in the hands of the elite? Or maybe it all goes on ludicrously inflated house prices? Ireland has nothing to complain about. The Irish are troublemakers and always have been. Everything you have that is worth having was given to you by England


    1. Brilliant Dave I’d just like to thank you for that comment and I’ll explain why in a minute. Firstly though if it would be possible to track down whoever left the latch off at the lodge, one of their campy bowler hat wearing nasallers appears to have escaped.

      I’d also like to extend my congratulations, a comment so full of donkey flop hasn’t been seen on the internet since aught eight, which probably makes you some kind of record holder. Not, I’m sure, the first such ignoble title you hold nor indeed likely to be the last.

      Just to pick one – only one – of the rivers of slurry you’ve spouted, the Finnish famine was of a much less damaging character than the Irish one, with a total death toll about 150,000 in excess of normal mortality, more than an order of magnitude less than the Irish one.

      The government of the Grand Duchy of Finland was ill-equipped to handle a crisis of such magnitude. There was no money readily available to import food from largely monopolized Central European markets, and the government was slow to recognise the severity of the situation. When money was finally borrowed from the Rothschild bank of Frankfurt in late 1867, the crisis was already full blown, and grain prices had risen in Europe. In addition, it was difficult to transport what little aid could be mustered in a country with poor communications. A number of emergency public works projects were set up, foremost among them the construction of the railway line from Riihimäki to Saint Petersburg.

      The rest of your comment is equally full of unmopped spittle but to the nub of the matter – fair play for pointing out the utter brutality of the British towards their own children as well, not that it’s any kind of excuse let alone reason.

      So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to screenshot your comment, Dave, and I’m going to share it with some people. We’re going to use it over and over and over again to promote the cause of Irish nationalism and push back againt the last seething dregs of English imperilaistic sentiment until your entire mud hovel of a culture falls over into its own excrement, a process already well on its way to completion.

      By the time we’re done, you’re likely to be in a dictionary. People are going to have questions.

      How do you like the sound of that?

      No Dave, it’s a rhetorical question. No need to answer.


      1. In in 12 Finns died in the 1866-1868 famine. The 1m in 8m that died in Ireland is therefore 1 in 8. Yes, a higher ratio, but you can’t look at the raw numbers as the overall Finnish population was lower than the Irish population. The point is that it was the norm to do nothing in the event of a famine. If Ireland had become independent under Wolfe Tone, nothing at all would have been done during the famine, as Ireland wouldn’t have had the money, and the people would have been left to starve. Them’s the facts! Is iad na fíricí iad san!


  3. Is it okay to say ” Up Al Qaeda ” ?


  4. Roger Friend 09/01/2023 at 9:44 am

    Like all defenders of Britain’s oppression and atrocities throughout the centuries, David Webb falls back on the canard “they deserved it.”

    The Irish deserved it…
    The Indians deserved it…
    The Boers deserved it…
    The Mau Maus deserved it…
    The Cypriots deserved it…

    On and on. The noble British empire, sue of Rule Britannia fame, does no wrong, conquers billions of her fellow men out of altruism, constantly gives and gives, and when she is asked to leave, does so politely and with a kind word.


  5. There was little worth replying to in Ivaus’ comment. But on the export of Irish grain throughout the Famine – yes – there was a decision to maintain law and order and normal economic life as much as possible. Such an attempt is made in every single famine, by the way. Did the Finns in 1866-1868 allow the starving to simply seize food that was being sent elsewhere? Do I think it is legitimate to attempt to seize a grain ship, as they tried to (was it in Cork or Youghal?)? Yes, if you’re starving, you should try to do this, but Britain did not want the collapse of the economy. Britain did much more in terms of relief than was normal in the 1840s. And, you’re welcome!


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