The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him;
His father's sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said "No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery!"

An emotionally stirring and inspirational song, The Minstrel Boy was written by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) who set it to the melody of The Moreen, and old Irish aire. It is believed by many that Moore composed the song as a memorial to several of his friends he had met while a student at Trinity College and who had participated in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen. One died in prison, another was wounded, and a third captured and hung. The song originally consisted of two verses. Due to its popularity, the song was a favorite of the many Irishmen who fought during the U.S. Civil War, primarily on the Union side. It was at this time that a third verse was added by unknown authors:

The Minstrel Boy will return we pray
When we hear the news we all will cheer it,
The minstrel boy will return one day,
Torn perhaps in body, not in spirit.
Then may he play on his harp in peace,
In a world such as Heaven intended,
For all the bitterness of man must cease,
And ev'ry battle must be ended.

This song remains a favorite of reenactment fife and drum corps (both Union and Confederate) and is heard frequently in both camps today.

Download Midi File by Barry Taylor
Download Midi File by John Renfro Davis

Thomas Moore, Irish Poet and Patriot

Thomas Moore was born in Dublin May 28, 1779 into a family with nationalistic sympathies. A son of a shoemaker, he became a well known and beloved poet, satirist, composer and musician. His ten volume work Irish Melodies (1807-34) consisted of 130 poems composed by Moore and Sir John Stevenson set to music. Much of the music was based on older Irish airs. Irish Melodies proved to be so popular that Moore earned 500 pounds annually for more than 25 years for it's publication. Although noted for his music, his poetry was acclaimed on its own merit as well, and J.W. Goethe considered him to be one of the three best poets of that time (the other two being Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. He was paid 3,000 pounds -- a record at that time -- for his poem Lalla Rookh (1817).

In 1795 Moore became one of the first Catholics admitted to Trinity College due to a suspension of one of the rules of the Penal Code. It was at Trinity where he met members of the United Irish Society. Already with an "ardor for the national cause" (1) due to his religious background, his contacts at Trinity would enflame his devotion to the Irish cause. One of his best friends at Trinity was Robert Emmet, who participated in the Uprising of 1798 and led another aborted uprising in 1803.  At his parents' pleading, Moore discontinued his radical activities.  Nonetheless, he continued to stand by Emmet, who was arrested, tried, and hanged after he had led an ill-fated rebellion in 1803. The poet refused to cooperate in the inquiry, and after Emmet's death he composed a moving elegy, When He Who Adores Thee, based on the martyr's words at his trial.

Both Emmet and Moore were members of the "Hist," an Historical Society at Trinity which was a debating society. It was during these Historical Society debates that Wolfe Tone developed the ideas which led him to the leadership of the United Irishmen, and Emmet spoke of the ideas that caused him to be expelled from Trinity.  It was also at Trinity College that Moore was introduced to Edward Bunting's collection of traditional Irish music. Bunting's General Collection of Ancient Irish Music (1796) was the beginning of a revival of Irish music. Most of Moore's first volume of Irish Melodies was based on Bunting's work. After graduating from Trinity, Moore studied law in London. His first book, Odes of Anacreon was a success and he was able to spend a year traveling to Bermuda, the West Indies and the United States. He returned to London in 1804 and lived there the rest of his life.

Moore had tremendous charm and was a gifted performer. Coupled with his literary skills, he seemed destined to become a success. Despite his vocal opinions concerning Irish national politics, he enjoyed widespread popularity and counted the Regent (later George IV) among his patrons. His career was not without controversy and risk. Remaining true to his own principles, he turned down the post of "Irish Poet Laureate" because he felt it required toning down his politics. He published a biography of Fitzgerald despite English fears it might lead to another rebellion. In the most controversial of his acts, he burned the manuscript of Byron's autobiography which Byron had left him. This he did at the request of Byron's half sister and Lady Byron, who felt it would damage Byron's reputation. Although Moore was a Catholic, he nevertheless married a Protestant woman and had his children raised Protestant. Late in his life he suffered the loss of his five children and was condemned by many of his countrymen as a false patriot. An essay written by Thomas Davis in 1844 criticized Moore for not being strong enough in his passion for Irish nationalism and attacked him as being elitist. Others criticized his work as "ersatz Irish music intended for an elite coterie."(2)

Moore died on February 25, 1852. His work endured. Irish Melodies was translated into every European language, including Hungarian, Polish and Russian. More than a million copies of The Last Rose of Summer were sold in the United State alone. (3) It is fair to state that Thomas Moore's work popularized Irish music throughout the world.

Music by Thomas Moore:
Avenging and Bright
Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms
Bendemeer's Stream
The Daughters of Erin
The Meeting of the Waters
The Minstrel Boy
My Gentle Harp
Oh, Breathe Not His Name
Oh! Think Not My Spirits Are Always As Light
Pretty Maid Milking A Cow
She is Far From the Land
The Time I've Lost in Wooing

Other Moore & Minstrel Boy Links:

• Thomas Moore Biography
Cantaria is a learning library of bardic songs.
This library currently contains lyrics for over 80 songs, most with accompanying sound clips.
"Zaphod's" collection of Irish tunes by way of searchable database.
Frank Petersohn's very large collection of folk songs from all around the world.  This link is to his Irish page.
An excellent site all about the songs popular by the soldiers of the
Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War.

• Quotes of Thomas Moore
• Selected Poetry of Thomas Moore
Over 500 traditional tunes in General Midi format from
Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England and "the Colonies"



Information presented here has to a great extent been taken from:
Lesley Nelson's (aka the Contemplator) Folk Music Site
Folk music of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and America.  A great site for traditional tunes, lyrics, history, links and information!


Theobald Wolfe Tone Eighteenth century Protestant lawyer was one of the few leaders of his time who was well respected in Dublin and Belfast. In the autumn of 1791, he called for Irish independence and a rapprochement between Protestants and Catholics. Tone was involved in the creation of the Society of United Irishmen, which had chapters in Belfast and Dublin. In 1798, the Irish nationalists rose against British occupation in the belief that a French invasion was imminent. The rebellion was crushed by British forces. Tone was captured and sentenced to be hanged, but he chose suicide over submitting to British justice, and slit his own throat.


"Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them,
let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace!
Let my memory be left in oblivion, my tomb remain uninscribed,
until other times and other men can do justice to my character."

- Emmet's farewell speech before his execution.

"There are in every generation those who shrink from the ultimate sacrifice, but there are in
every generation those who make it with joy and laughter and these are the salt of the generations."

- Patrick Henry Pearse (1879–1916), Irish nationalist leader, in his commemoration address for Robert Emmet, March 2, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. Pearse was executed by the British in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.

(1) James Flannery, Dear Harp of My Country, 42
(2) Flannery, 115.
(3) Flannery, 117. Information from:
  (1) James W. Flannery, Dear Harp of My Country: The Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore, J. S. Sanders &Company, Nashville, TN, 1995 & 1997.
  (2) The Encyclopedia Britannica Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Volume VII, p. 8 Chicago, Copyright 1977