Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

"Young Ned of the Hill" and the Reemergence of the Irish Rapparee: A Textual and Intertextual Analysis

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

"Young Ned of the Hill" and the Reemergence of the Irish Rapparee: A Textual and Intertextual Analysis

Article excerpt

The song "Young Ned of the Hill" by the Pogues resurrects an outlaw hero from Irish folklore and attempts to make sense of contemporary experience by appealing to a meaningful past. Through a close attention to text and intertextual references, this article considers why Ned of the Hill has reemerged as a symbolic figure, and what messages are conveyed by the song's representation of the outlaw. In particular, the song may provide commentary on the contemporary political situation in Northern Ireland. In the process of exploring how the song selectively draws from previous discourse, scholarship in folklore and linguistic anthropology help us explore broader issues in interpreting text, context, and tradition.

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In 1989, the Pogues, an eclectic Irish folk/punk/rock band, included "Young Ned of the Hill," a song written by Ron Kavana and Pogues member Terry Woods, on their ironically titled album, Peace and Love. The song is somewhat remarkable as a political statement, fiercely condemning Oliver Cromwell and his ruthless seventeenth-century campaign through Ireland. However, the song's tone is also standard fare for this now defunct London-based band of mostly Irish ex-patriots, who cultivated an image of hard-drinking, blue-collar machismo. Perhaps more remarkable is Kavana and Woods' choice of the Irish outlaw and folk hero Ned of the Hill as their foil to Cromwell. Eamonn O Riain (Edmund O'Ryan), better known in Irish folklore as Eamonn an Chnoic or Ned of the Hill, was one of many Irish Catholic landholders forcibly dispossessed by English and Scottish Protestant settlers in the seventeenth century. Rather than fleeing to the continent, many like O Riain chose to remain in Ireland, hoping to frustrate their supplanters. Living the lives of political bandits--harassing British troops, robbing Protestant planters and landlords, and aiding the Irish poor--these men were outlawed and termed "rapparees" and "tories" (1) by Crown authorities. After the historical O Riain's death, ballads, chapbooks, and local legends immortalized him as a Robin Hood-like resistance fighter and proto-nationalist folk hero.

Given the infrequency of contemporary published references to the folkloric Ned of the Hill (and, indeed, other political bandits from the Irish past), one might think him a symbolic figure more relevant to a previous era. Yet he reappeared on a reasonably popular album produced during a period of heightened political tension in Northern Ireland. Through several centuries, media, and reworkings, elements of Ned of the Hill's story have continued to resonate with vastly different audience--Irish, Anglo-Irish, English, and now anyone who buys Peace and Love and enjoys this song. One reason may be the purely structural appeal of the outlaw's romantic story. In a context in which justice has been divorced from law, he seizes the opportunity to simultaneously be bad and do the right thing by breaking the law. Whatever the specific reasons for its appeal to contemporary audiences, the Pogues' "Young Ned of the Hill" is a recent innovation in a long, though admittedly waning, narrative and poetic tradition concerned with Irish outlaws and one outlaw in particular. It is not a revival of an old ballad or a recounting of a folksy oral history but a modern mass-marketed product that draws in part from a larger, threecentury-old discourse on Irish outlaws. (2)

Given the song's juxtaposition of Ned and Cromwell--resistance fighter and English invader--the song provides commentary on the role of republican paramilitary groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in contemporary Northern Ireland, a commentary that draws on the aura of tradition for its authority. At stake is how a meaningful past is constructed and referenced in order to make sense of the present. In addition, we must ask how this is achieved given different audiences' varying levels of familiarity with the discursive traditions from which the text is drawn. …

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