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No plans to remove 'Fianna Fáil' from anthem or Defence Forces logo, says govt

Michael Noonan says the Irish translation of the Soldier’s Song was made before Éamon de Valera founded his political party.

The FF letters in the logo of the Defence Forces stem from the words 'Fianna Fáil', meaning 'Soldiers of Ireland'.
The FF letters in the logo of the Defence Forces stem from the words 'Fianna Fáil', meaning 'Soldiers of Ireland'.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

TWO SENIOR MEMBERS of the cabinet have ruled out removing the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ from Amhrán na bhFiann, or the letters FF from the logo of the Defences Forces.

Michael Noonan has said the most common Irish translation of The Soldier’s Song – which was originally written in English – was made before the founding of the political party of the same name.

He was responding to calls from independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan who had asked for his views on whether the phrase ‘Sinne Fianna Fáil’ should be re-translated so that it might not reflect the political party of the same name.

Noonan said academic studies pointed out that the translation most commonly used – made by Liam Ó Rinn, who later became the Oireachtas’ chief translator – was made as early as 1917, and was notably published in 1923.

His translation of ‘soldiers are we’ as ‘Sinne Fianna Fáil’ was a legitimate one because before the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, the Volunteers had identified themselves as the descendants of Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s Fianna tribe of warriors.

Inis Fáil, meanwhile, was believed to be an old or poetic name for Ireland – meaning ‘Fianna Fáil’ was a sound translation for the concept of ‘Soldiers of Ireland’.

It was not until 1926, Noonan pointed out, that Éamon de Valera founded a political party of the same name. Peadar Kearney’s original lyrics for The Soldier’s Song were written in 1907.

Deffence FForces

The minister’s insistence follows moves by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to rule out changing the logo of the Irish Defence Forces, in order to remove the ‘FF’ letters, which had been inherited from the Free State’s National Army.

Kenny had been asked to consider setting up an ‘independent commission’ by Fine Gael backbencher Derek Keating, which would have been tasked with considering both the adoption of a new national anthem, and the review of symbols worn by national services like Gardaí and the military.

The commission would have been tasked with considering new emblems for the Gardaí, Defence Forces, Fire Service, Civil Defence and other offices of state.

In response to a parliamentary question, however, Kenny said there were “no plans” to appoint any such commission.

When the Irish Free State purchased the copyright of the song – for £1200 in 1934 – it only purchased the original English words written by Kearney, and the music written by Kearney and Patrick Heeney.

Because no legislation has since been enacted to formally declare a national anthem, or to standardise its lyrics, there is no formal Irish language version of the song – with Liam Ó Rinn’s 1917 version merely being the most commonly-known version.

The words ‘Sinne laochra fáil’ are occasionally substituted into the first line in order to avoid reference to the political party.

Though the copyright on the anthem expires at the end of 2012 – 70 years after Kearney’s death – the government does not plan to take any action, believing the original purpose of buying the anthem (in order to ensure its free use) would remain unchanged.

The matter of the national anthem had been occasionally discussed during last year’s presidential election, with some candidates expressing their interest in having it replaced.

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Gavan Reilly

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