September 20th is an important day in Dublin history. It was on this date in 1803 that Robert Emmet met his death on Thomas Street, and on this same date in 1920 a young medical student from UCD by the name of Kevin Barry was captured during a botched raid across the river on Bolton Street. I thought I’d post two fantastic songs, one relating to each character, for the day which is in it.
Firstly, the late and great Frank Harte singing ‘By Memory Inspired’ is a truly fantastic recording. It deals primarily with the rebellion of 1798, but also Robert Emmet’s rebellion of 1803.
The Ballad of Kevin Berry is one of the best known songs of the revolutionary period. It has been sung by Paul Robeson, Leonard Cohen and others. The below is a rare recording of Leonard Cohen singing it in the National Stadium in 1972.
Paul Robeson learned the song, in very unusual circumstances, from the republican Peadar O’Donnell! The story of how Robeson met O’Donnell, on a roadside in the United States, is well recounted in Donal Ó Drisceoil’s brilliant biography of O’Donnell.
Peadar was stranded at a roadside with a burst tyre when a limousine stopped and offered help. He was invited to sit in the car by the passenger while the driver fixed the puncture.The passenger turned out to be Paul Robeson, who told Peadar that he would like to record an Irish song. O’ Donnell suggested Kevin Barry, the ballad glorifying the young IRA man hanged by the British in 1920, which he said conveyed the spirit of Ieland. He procceded to teach the song to Robeson, who released it on record in the early 1950s.