MEMORIAL ON DORSET STREET – PEADAR KEARNEY
Peadar Kearney (12 December 1883 – 24 November 1942) was an Irish republican and composer of numerous rebel songs. In 1907 he wrote the lyrics to A Soldier’s Song (Amhrán na bhFiann), now the Irish national anthem. He was the uncle of Irish writers Brendan Behan, Brian Behan, and Dominic Behan.
Kearney was born in 1883 at 68 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin, above one of the two grocer’s shops owned by his father, John Kearney (1854–1897), originally from Funshog, Collon, County Louth.
Peadar’s mother, Katie née McGuinness (1859/60–1907), was from Rathmaiden, Slane, County Meath. Peadar was educated at the Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and St. Joseph’s C.B.S. in Fairview. He heard Willie Rooney give nationalist lectures on history in the Mechanics’ Institute. He started at Belvedere College but played truant to escape beatings, so that his father ended his education and got him a job at a bicycle repair shop. His father died of pneumonia soon after, leaving Peadar to support his mother and five younger siblings. He had various menial jobs for three years before being apprenticed to a house painter.
Kearney’s songs were highly popular with the Volunteers (which later became the IRA) in the 1913–22 period. Most popular was “The Soldier’s Song”. Kearney penned the original English lyrics in 1907 and his friend and musical collaborator Patrick Heeney composed the music. The lyrics were published in 1912 and the music in 1916. After 1916 it replaced “God Save Ireland” as the anthem of Irish nationalists. The Irish Free State was established in 1922 and formally adopted the anthem in 1926. Subsequently, theatres and the state broadcaster began playing the anthem at the end of performances, and Kearney prepared to take legal action to demand royalties, obliging the state to acquire the copyright in 1934 for £980 (half each to Kearney and the heirs of Heeney, who had died). From the 1930s, the anthem was increasingly sung in Irish, in a translation by Liam Ó Rinn.
Other well-known songs by Kearney include “Down by the Glenside”, “The Tri-coloured Ribbon”, “Down by the Liffey Side”, “Knockcroghery” (about the village of Knockcroghery) and “Erin Go Bragh” (Erin Go Bragh was the text on the Irish national flag before the adoption of the tricolour).
Kearney was the uncle of the writers Brendan, and Dominic Behan, both of whom were also republicans and songwriters, via his sister Kathleen Kearney who married Stephen Behan, one of Michael Collins’s “Twelve Apostles”. Brendan Behan was in prison when Kearney died, and was refused permission to attend his funeral. In a letter to Kearney’s son, Pearse, he said, “my Uncle Peadar was the one, outside my own parents, who excited the admiration and love that is friendship.”
In 1957 his sister Margaret’s son, Seamus de Burca (or Jimmy Bourke), published a biography of Kearney, The Soldier’s Song: The Story of Peadar Ó Cearnaigh. In 1976 De Burca also published Kearney’s letters to his wife written during his internment in 1921 were published as My Dear Eva … Letters from Ballykinlar Internment Camp, 1921. A wall plaque on the west side of Dorset Street commemorates his birth there.