A Nation Once Again

"A Nation Once Again" is a song written in the early to mid-1840s by Thomas Osborne Davis (1814–1845). Davis was a founder of Young Ireland, an Irish movement whose aim was for Ireland to gain independence from Britain.

"A Nation Once Again"
Published13 July 1844
Songwriter(s)Thomas Osborne Davis

Davis believed that songs could have a strong emotional impact on people. He wrote that "a song is worth a thousand harangues". He felt that music could have a particularly strong influence on Irish people at that time. He wrote: "Music is the first faculty of the Irish... we will endeavour to teach the people to sing the songs of their country that they may keep alive in their minds the love of the fatherland."[1]

"A Nation Once Again" was first published in The Nation on 13 July 1844 and quickly became a rallying call for the growing Irish nationalist movement at that time.

The song is a prime example of the "Irish rebel music" subgenre. The song's narrator dreams of a time when Ireland will be, as the title suggests, a free land, with "our fetters rent in twain". The lyrics exhort Irish people to stand up and fight for their land: "And righteous men must make our land a nation once again".

It has been recorded by many Irish singers and groups, notably John McCormack, The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, The Wolfe Tones (a group with Republican leanings) in 1972, the Poxy Boggards, and The Irish Tenors (John McDermott, Ronan Tynan, Anthony Kearns) and Sean Conway for a 2007 single. In the Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night, Paul McCartney's Irish grandfather begins singing the song at the British police officers after they arrest him for peddling autographed pictures of the band members.

In 2002, after an orchestrated e-mail campaign,[2][3] the Wolfe Tones' 1972 rendition of "A Nation Once Again" was voted the world's most popular song according to a BBC World Service global poll of listeners, ahead of "Vande Mataram",[4] the national song of India.

Davis copied the melody for the chorus from the second movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto.[citation needed] Famously, Winston Churchill used this phrase in an attempt to get Ireland to join forces with the British during World War II. Churchill said ‘now or never. A nation once again’ proposing that if Ireland joined forces with Britain then a united Ireland would be the reward. The Irish Prime Minister Éamon de Valera did not respond to Winston Churchill's telegram.[5]


The lyrics use a simple ABABCDCD rhyme scheme, with verses of eight lines, and alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. Davis describes how he learned of ancient fighters for freedom as a boy — the three hundred Spartans who fought at the Battle of Thermopylae. The "three men" may refer to Horatius Cocles and his two companions who defended the Sublician Bridge, a legend recounted in Macaulay's poem "Horatius, published as part of the Lays of Ancient Rome, in 1842, or alternatively to the three assassins of Julius Caesar (Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus) who aimed to preserve the Roman Republic from tyranny. He relates this to his own hopes that Ireland may yet be freed, and be no longer a British "province" but a nation of its own. The use of the term "once again" refers to Gaelic Ireland, the pre-modern island of Gaelic culture largely independent of foreign control. Davis mentions his belief that only moral, religious men could set Ireland free, and his own aims to make himself worthy of such a task.

When boyhood's fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

And from that time, through wildest woe,
That hope has shone a far light,
Nor could love's brightest summer glow
Outshine that solemn starlight;
It seemed to watch above my head
In forum, field and fane,
Its angel voice sang round my bed,
A Nation once again!

A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

It whisper'd too, that freedom's ark
And service high and holy,
Would be profaned by feelings dark
And passions vain or lowly;
For, Freedom comes from God's right hand,
And needs a Godly train;
And righteous men must make our land
A Nation once again!

A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!

So, as I grew from boy to man,
I bent me to that bidding
My spirit of each selfish plan
And cruel passion ridding;
For, thus I hoped some day to aid,
Oh, can such hope be vain?
When my dear country shall be made
A Nation once again!


  1. ^ Raymond Daly, Celtic and Ireland in Song and Story, Studio Print, 2008, p. 84.
  2. ^ Paterson, Michael (December 14, 2002). "Late surge for Irish anthem in BBC poll". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  3. ^ Chaudhary, Vivek (December 3, 2003). "Gaelic footballer's fans try to topple Jonny Wilkinson by rigging sport poll". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  4. ^ BBC News Service: "World's Top Ten".
  5. ^ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/National Archives of Ireland/Royal Irish Academy. Retrieved 25 February 2019. "Telegram from Winston Churchill to Eamon de Valera (Dublin) (No. 120) (Most Immediate) "

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