The Hippo


Dec 13, 2019








Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones. Courtesy photo.

Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones

When: Saturday, March 19, 9 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester

Rebel song
Irish band marks Easter Uprising centennial

By Michael Witthaus

 It’s the time of year for all things Celtic, with St. Patrick’s Day songs, step dancers and shamrocks everywhere — which makes it mind-boggling to realize that just a century ago an independent Ireland didn’t exist. Moreover, English occupiers did all they could to eradicate Irish culture completely. 

That changed with the Easter Uprising of 1916. Dublin, Ireland, native Derek Warfield and his band the Young Wolfe Tones are touring to mark the anniversary; they play a show at Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub on March 19. 
Warfield, an astute historian of his country, recounted in a recent phone interview how outward expressions of Irish pride were ruthlessly suppressed for generations. 
“They didn’t just want the submission of the Irish people, they wanted to destroy forever the language, music and the poetic bard tradition that had gone back hundreds of years,” Warfield said. “So they set about doing that in the 16th century, but they didn’t succeed.”
The violence in 1916 marked an irrevocable turning point. 
“It was the most important event in Irish history over the last five to six hundred years,” Warfield said. 
The military rebellion was followed in 18 months by an election. 
“The Irish people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Britain and that vote was ignored. … It showed English rule for what it was — self-serving,” he said.
The language used to tell Ireland’s story is musical, and his band’s show features many songs of struggle and vindication. 
“All our history is in our music, which is an amazing fact … the association goes back to the earliest recorded texts,” Warfield said. 
During the occupation, citizens “couldn’t write songs, couldn’t sing — nobody except an English king. The whole tradition went underground and became part of the people’s resistance.”
With independence, Irish culture came into the open, and the world grew to love it. 
“We had the opportunity since the 1920s to place a value on all our traditions, the dance, music, song and written word,” Warfield said. “Under English rule ... to wear the color green was an offense. To sing or even whistle a song with a sentiment that expressed Irish liberty was punished by flogging and sometimes death. The attempted conquest was very violent; the songs reflect that.”
Now 73, Warfield has been a musician all his life. 
“It was probably inevitable,” he said. “I came from a family that was very musical and it played a big part of my childhood. My mother and father, all my aunts and uncles sang songs. They were regular theatergoers, and it was an essential part of our life to be part of living culture. We were very poor, but my parents and grandparents placed a high value on Irish tradition. … I was about 18 when people asked me to come to places to play and they’d pay. I just fell into it.”
Warfield and his brother Brian started the Wolfe Tones in 1963. The group disbanded after 40 years, but the singer, songwriter and mandolin player wasn’t ready to retire. 
“I felt I had a lot to give to a younger generation; I started Young Wolfe Tones to pass on the traditions,” he said. “We’ve been going 11 years. I’ve had some wonderful young people, fine musicians far greater than anything of my own generation, who are by the standards of today very poor, mostly self-taught. Today the young people have skilled teachers. My band members are all teachers.”
Along with the songs of his country, Warfield has released records charting the link between Irish music and the rest of the world — two covering the American Civil War, and a project in 2011 examining Australia. 
“I was invited to the National Folk Festival, and I considered it a great honor. They asked me to sing the songs of the rebel and resistance,” Warfield said. “Apparently the Irish went to Australia and sowed the seeds of discontent; much of their early history is colored with Irish immigrants. I found the songs absolutely fascinating. I’m uncovering material that very few people have covered.” 
This is the band’s second trip to the Shaskeen; they played for the pub’s 10th anniversary in 2015. 
“It had been many years since I’d been in Manchester,” Warfield said. “We had a wonderful night — a super place, a great venue. It is a bit of Ireland in New Hampshire. With the connections that go back in history between Ireland and New Hampshire, it’s really fitting.” 

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