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This piece was first published by An Fear Rua website.

Could go the way of “Galway Bay”

IT is not only humans who can be ruined by drink. Strange as it may seem, songs can be become victims of the demon alcohol. All the signs are there, for anyone with ears to hear, that “The Fields of Athenry” is in danger. That fine song may go the way of “Galway Bay”.

The risk to “The Fields” has greatly increased over the years. It was first sung by the followers of the Athenry hurling team. But the song is so memorable and melodic that it crossed the sporting barriers and was taken up by soccer and rugby followers. It has surged round the terraces and stands not just at Lansdowne Road but at stadia all over the world where an Irish team plays.

“The Fields” is now well-established as a sort of anthem. It wells up at intervals, partially sustained by stout, some of the notes flat as stale ale. Sometimes the song subsides and dies away, as if the effort to keep it going is beyond the lungs of those who have drunk well before coming to the game.

A dissonant chorus of the song is later heard again, in pubs. And the inebriated state of “The Fields” is not over quite yet. Some people arrive home from the game in the small hours, easing themselves out of cars, staggering out of taxis, flopping out of buses. With haggard faces and hoarse voices, some give a final rendition of the song. It echoes round the deserted streets; curtains in houses may be seen to move as those disturbed from their slumbers peer out to see who is making the racket.

“If I hear that bloody ‘Fields of Athenry’ again at 3am there will be no holding me back”, one neighbour says to another next morning.

It is a serious matter for a song when someone makes an unfriendly remark like that. It is a sure sign that it is falling into disrepute. This is what happened to Galway Bay. That estimable tune got along nicely at the beginning. Recordings by Josef Locke and Bing Crosby gave it world-wide popularity.

The trouble was that everyone thought they could sing it. No pub gathering could end without a rendition of it. It was bawled out at parties and get-togethers, at wakes and weddings and every country ball. From then on, Galway Bay, was on the downward slide.

All too often, after closing time, it was sung in hoarse snatches in the highways and byways of the country. Soon court reports in the provincial newspapers brought it into further disgrace.
“Defendant singing ‘Galway Bay’ at 4 am – fined £20 for breach of peace”
“‘ Galway Bay’ woke up half the village,’ says sergeant.”

There was even a headline in one of the Midlands papers that ran “Sleep of parish priest disturbed by rendition of ‘Galway Bay’ in small hours”. Needless to say, the justice severely admonished the late-night songsters for such a serious breach of the peace. He warned them about any further small-hours excursions to “Galway Bay” and ordered them to deposit £30 pounds in the church poor box.

Thus the song got a bad reputation. It went into decline. No reputable singer would consider it any more because it was now associated with tuneless bawling if not drunkenness. People had heard it far too often, usually sung by those whose singing aspirations had been falsely buoyed by alcohol. It became the Untouchable of the song repertoire.

A sure sign of how despised it had become was its being parodied; comic versions were sung at pantomimes and in parish halls. One parody ended with the words:

“And if there’s going to be a life hereafter,
And somehow I think there’s going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my heaven,
Where ‘Galway Bay’s unheard eternally.”

If “Galway Bay” could have manifested itself in human form, it would have been admitted to St Patrick’s hospital in Dublin, there to be tended by someone of the calibre of Dr John Cooney, a man whose experience, patience and compassion rescued many from the travails of alcoholism. But even that good man might have been hard put to effect a cure for that song.

Let this be a warning. The same fate awaits “The Fields of Athenry” if people are not careful.