Diarmuid Breatnach

Younger James Connolly
A younger James Connolly than we usually see. Connolly published his songbook in New York in 1907 — included among the songs was We Only Want the Earth.


Incredibly, I only discovered this recording a few days ago. I first heard this song sung by Cornelius Cardew whom I knew in London through political activism and interest in revolutionary culture. Years later I learned the lyrics and sing it now to the same tune, more or less, i.e. that of A Nation Once Again. Admittedly, it sounds great with a reggae or ska backbeat. I came across this recording while looking for a recording of me singing the song at a talk by Portuguese socialists given in Dublin last year.

The lyrics were composed by James Connolly and were published in the James Connolly Songbook in 1907 in New York with a foreword by Connolly:
“No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is a dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude”.

Cornelius Cardew was a respected composer as well as a revolutionary, a central member of the English Communist Party (marxist-leninist). This small organization had a good track record on a number of fronts, including solidarity with the Irish struggle.

Cornelius Cardew, from a Guardian obituary photo
Cornelius Cardew, from a Guardian obituary photo

I remember the shock when hearing of his death 13 December 1981, the victim of a hit-and-run driver near his London home in Leyton. The driver was never found. It might have been an accident but he was not the only political activist to die in mysterious circumstances in Britain in those years, particularly if involved in Irish solidarity.

Not a bad summary of his life here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Cardew

The song We Only Want the Earth with reggae backbeat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTxVBsg4u30

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