Back Home in Derry – Christy Moore singing Bobby Sands

This one is a controversial one: Back Home in Derry, by Irish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist Christy Moore who was named “Ireland’s greatest living musician” in 2007. Controversial because the...

This one is a controversial one: Back Home in Derry, by Irish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist Christy Moore who was named “Ireland’s greatest living musician” in 2007.

Controversial because the lyrics were written by Robert Gerard “Bobby” Sands, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, better known with its acronym: IRA. A terrorist for some, an iconic rebel for others. Without a doubt I do not wish to use this space to take side in this dispute nor write about the troubles between Ireland and the United Kingdom concerning Northern Ireland status. What I wish to do is to appreciate the quality of this tune and the depth of its lyrics.

Bobby Sands was not only a world famous Irish activist but also a (less famous) writer. While he was imprisoned in HM Prison Maze, where he died in 1981 on hunger strike, he wrote under the pseudonym “Marcella” several articles, letters and songs. One of this is Back Home in Derry, of which the melody is inspired by Gordon Lightfoot’s famous 1976 song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“.

Christy Moore, a well known left-winged and Republican artist, recorded it, making this tune an Irish folk awesome classic. Though it was banned by BBC because it was viewed as subversive.

In 1803 we sailed out to sea
Out from the sweet town of Derry.
For Australia bound if we didn’t all drown
And the marks of our fetters were heavy
In the rusty iron chains we sighed for our weans
Our good women we left there in sorrow
As the mainsails unfurled, our curses were hurled
At the English and the thoughts of tomorrow

Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.
Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.

At the mouth of the Foyle, bid farewell to the soil
As down below decks we were lying.
O’Docherty’s scream woke him out of a dream
By a vision of bold Robert dying.
The sun burned cruel and they dished out the gruel
Dan O’Connor was down with the fever
Sixty rebels that day bound for Botany Bay
How many would reach there this evening?

Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.
Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.

I cursed them to hell, as her bow fought the swell
Our ship danced like a moth on the firelight
Wild horses rode high as the devil passed by
Taking souls into Hades by twilight light
Five weeks out to sea we were now 43
We buried our comrades each morning
And in our own slime we were lost in a time,
Endless days without dawning

Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.
Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.

Van Diemen’s Land is a hell for a man
To live out his life in slavery
Where the climate is raw and the gun makes the law
Neither wind nor rain care of bravery
Twenty years have gone by and I’ve ended my bond
My comrades’ ghosts walk beside me
Well a rebel I came and sure I’ll die the same
On a cold winter’s night you will find me.

Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.
Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.

Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.
Oh….oh, I wish I was back home in Derry.

As you may have noticed, while written in “modern” times, the lyrics rely on tradition and old times, speaking about the forced deportation of Irish people to Australia (Van Diemen’s Land) undertaken by the British between 1791 and 1853, when the sentence of penal transportation was commuted to a prison sentence in Ireland.

Whilst very disputed, this beautiful ballad shouts a vivid and modern sentiment of sorrow for losing freedom and fierce rebellion at the same time: a rebellion not bent by imprisonment or raw conditions which will continue after the death of many. “On a cold winter’s night you will find me“.

Back Home in Derry – Christy Moore singing Bobby Sands
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Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
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