The Fields of Where did you say? Summer 2002

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It’s not easy living in a town that’s the subject of a popular song. The residents of Tipperary are sick to death of people believing that they live a million miles away from anywhere. Equally, the citizens of Tralee are tired of the notion that their town is simply one big rose garden. But it’s worse in Athenry. At least the residents of Tralee or Tipperary don’t have the name of their town bellowed out by screaming supporters of every lrish team regardless of the particular sport.

During the world cup the Japanese were rightly confused when they heard ‘The Fields’ ring out. They were checking their programmes in disbelief when they heard a group of supporters singing about a team, called Athenry. They had no idea where this new nation of low-lying fields had suddenly sprung from.

Those Japanese who managed to translate the words were left to wonder how, in a place really so desperately lonely as Athenry, eleven soccer-playing residents could be found. They were confused too, as to how a place that spends all its time watching free birds fly has any time left to train a soccer team. The only line of the song that seemed to have anything at all to do with football was the one ‘nothing matters Mary when you’ve a free.’

The song gave a very negative impression of Irish fans. The Japanese assumed that the entire team were a bunch of hardened criminals who enjoyed stealing from the unfortunate Mr. Trevelyn. Looking at their match programmes they discovered that there was nobody by the name of Trevelyn in the squad. They concluded that the reason the poor man was left out was because he simply couldn’t risk leaving his valuable grain store for fear there wouldn’t be a single kilo left on his return.

Apart from being misleading, many find the words of the song offensive. Bird fanciers are particularly incensed when they hear it. ‘Praising Athenry as a place where the birds are free to fly suggests that in other parts of Ireland the population are hell bent on shooting them down‘ said Samantha Wing, a resident of Dublin’s fair city. ‘The people of Athenry are not the only ones who like birds.‘

A child psychologist, who doesn’t wish to be named as he has relatives in the area, believes the song could have a detrimental effect on the behavioural patterns of male children. ‘Any child born in Athenry and unfortunate enough to be given the name Michael will have to live with the stigma all his life’ he says. ‘Coming from Athenry with the name Michael suggests in people’s minds an unreliable individual who would rather steal than get a job’ he says. ‘lt’s a name associated with rebels who refuse to fit in with society‘.

Joan Dennan of the United Family Association goes further. She believes the song should be banned. ‘The song smacks of immorality’ she says ‘There’s something socially unhealthy about a place where innocent young girls hang around harbour walls late at night. Such wanton behaviour can lead to no good.’

Professor Edmund O’ Shea, an eminent historian suggests that the entire song is a fabrication. ‘lf people had the wit to consult a map they’d see there is no harbour in Athenry’ he says. ‘Unless the locals are so dim-witted as to think that a low-lying flooded field compares with a fully functional facility for ocean going liners.’

Another academic who has harsh words for the lyrics of the song is the prominent social scientist, Dr Mary McKenna. ‘Do the people of Athenry think that they are the only ones who suffer from loneliness?’ she says. Have any of them ever been to Belmullet for example?’ Dr McKenna believes it’s up to the residents of the town to do something for themselves to combat their loneliness. ‘Why don’t they start a local GAA team?’ she suggests. ‘It would be a way of getting them to socialise and make friends. And who knows, maybe they’d experience the pleasure of winning an odd match. If they really are so lonely, they should get off their behinds and do something about it.’

So, there’s one positive suggestion for the lonely hearts of Athenry. Starting a singing class to learn a second song might be another.

David Storey is an author and well-known journalist.

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About this record

Written by David Storey

Published here 17 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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