Songs of rebellion, protest, and social action have been an intrinsic part of folk and roots music of all kinds and from around the world, and forever it seems. As long as people have struggled against oppression, occupation, and injustice, they have found their voices in songs. This, of course, is very true of Irish and Scottish music, mainly because history ties so intimately to the unwelcome centuries of occupation by Britain – the resulting exploitation, poverty, uprisings, and reprisals.

Here in the US, much of America's protest music has had old-country influences and roots that came across the Atlantic over the years. In turn, American songs have regularly been exported back across the ocean and used in different struggles at various times, including notably, The Troubles, also called the Northern Ireland conflict, from the late 1960s to today.

This segment explores songs and movements, and because of the context, it is not limited to Celtic music. Given the interconnectivity, doing so would be unnecessarily limiting.

This is against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic and the severe social and political upheaval throughout the country. I have a sense this music, these songs of rebellion, protest, and social action, and the causes that created them, are again with us in a real way. It's terrifying, saddening, and hopeful.

I closed the program this past Saturday with this powerful poem written by Imelda May. Also below: a Spotify playlist of the songs used in the segment.

"You Don’t Get to be Racist and Irish"

By Imelda May

You don’t get to be racist and Irish
You don’t get to be proud of your heritage,
plights and fights for freedom
while kneeling on the neck of another!
You’re not entitled to sing songs
of heroes and martyrs
mothers and fathers who cried
as they starved in a famine
Or of brave hearted
soft spoken
poets and artists
lined up in a yard
blindfolded and bound
Waiting for Godot
and point blank to sound
We emigrated
We immigrated
We took refuge
So cannot refuse
When it’s our time
To return the favour
Land stolen
Spirits broken
Bodies crushed and swollen
unholy tokens of Christ, Nailed to a tree
(That) You hang around your neck
Like a noose of the free
Our colour pasty
Our accents thick
Hands like shovels
from mortar and bricklaying
foundation of cities
you now stand upon
Our suffering seeps from every stone
your opportunities arise from
Outstanding on the shoulders
of our forefathers and foremother’s
who bore your mother’s mother
Our music is for the righteous
Our joys have been earned
Well deserved and serve
to remind us to remember
More Blacks
More Dogs
More Irish.
Still labelled leprechauns, Micks, Paddy’s, louts
we’re shouting to tell you
our land, our laws
are progressively out there
We’re in a chrysalis
state of emerging into a new
and more beautiful Eire/era
40 Shades Better
Unanimous in our rainbow vote
we’ve found our stereotypical pot of gold
and my God it’s good.
So join us.. 'cause
You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish.

Below is a Spotify playlist of songs used in this segment. Not included is a recording of Robbie O'Connell's song "There is Hope," recorded live in the backroom of the Burren and not yet available commercially.