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05th Sep 2023

Bertie Ahern urges young people who sing ‘Celtic Symphony’ to educate themselves on Troubles

Stephen Porzio


“Sing your songs but will you for God’s sake understand your history.”

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has weighed in on the most recent controversy surrounding the Wolfe Tones and their song ‘Celtic Symphony’.

The Irish rebel band performed at the Electric Arena stage at Electric Picnic this weekend and drew record crowds, with thousands spilling out of the packed music festival tent in an effort to see the group live.

In the days since the show, however, many have expressed concern over audiences singing along to the refrain of ‘Celtic Symphony’, which contains the lyrics: “Ooh, aah, up the Ra,” referring to the IRA.

Appearing on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder on Monday, Bertie Ahern was asked if he felt the track glamorises the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

In response, the politician said he believes that young people should be able to sing such Irish rebel songs but should also educate themselves on the history that inspired them.

Ahern told the show: “I don’t get too excited about it,” later noting that he is a fan of the Wolfe Tones and has been to many of their concerts.

Bertie Ahern on ‘Celtic Symphony’

“It was written by Brian Warfield back in ’87 for the centennial of the Celtic football club and anyone whose ever been at a Celtic match, particularly a Celtic v Rangers match… knows the kinds of songs that are sung. I think that’s the way it is,” the former Taoiseach also said.

“A lot of their songs are very republican. They are songs about the past but I think rather than getting ourselves hung up about a line in a song to a new generation, people that were born after the Good Friday Agreement, I think it beholds us to try and educate them or explain to them as best we can the facts of what happened during the Troubles.

“I think people can sing war songs… but I think young people as a separate project should educate themselves as to what happened on this island, about the ferocious trauma that we had from ‘68 on, the fact that 3,700 people were killed, that we had tens of thousands of bombs, shootings that damaged our image all over the world, that tourism was a non-runner, investment was a non-runner for many years.

“So, I think I’d rather people would see that story and understand then the efforts that were made by a lot of people, from Bill Clinton, to George Mitchell, Tony Blair and a lot of others, to try to bring an end to that and to move this country in a different direction.

“So, I think it is that education process that I would be far more interested in than worrying about a line of a song.”


The crowd at Electric Picnic to see the Wolfe Tones – Image via Instagram/Electric Picnic

Ahern later added: “You kind of can’t have it both ways. You can’t say: ‘I can sing all these songs but not know something about the history of what did happen in those difficult times.’

“Listen, if you start trying to stop people singing, you’ll only have them singing it twice as much.

“I think if we try… and say: ‘Don’t play the songs, don’t listen to the songs but do read your history,’ I don’t think that’s going to work.

“I’m saying: ‘Listen, sing your songs but will you for God’s sake understand your history and do understand what happened in this country.’

“And not because it happened and not because it’s history, because we want to make sure that the divisions of the past cannot become things of the future.”

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