"When boyhood's fire was in my blood, I read of ancient freemen... And then I prayed I yet might see... Ireland, long a province, be A nation once again." The youth describes the glories of freedom, and hopes it can be regained
Thomas Davis was an Irish poet and patriot. A member of Daniel O'Connell's National Repeal Association from 1841, he started the _Nation_ newspaper in 1842 and was a leader of the "Young Ireland" movement that sought a more modern approach to independence.
Davis died of scarlet fever in 1845, and it never really became clear whether he supported violent revolution or agreed with O'Connell in espousing peaceful reform.
What is truly hard to imagine is the National Ireland that Davis hoped for. As is so often the with Irish leaders, Davis was Protestant. (See Robert Kee, _The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, pp. 195-197).
The irony and the problem of the song is that Ireland was *never* a nation; before the English came, it had been a land of many petty chiefs who never united. The closest it came was the period from 1782-1800, when it had a truly independent parliament under the British crown. It proceeded to shoot itself in the foot, with a government so bad that it induced the 1798 rebellion and in turn caused Britain to create a parliamentary union. So the Protestant concept of the Nation of Ireland was one that oppressed Catholics, and the Catholic concept didn't exist.
And, in fact, Ireland never did manage to become the nation Davis wanted it to be, since the Catholic and Protestant parts separated, and each would display strong prejudice toward the members of the other denomination.
The first stanza refers to "Three Hundred men and Three men." The Three Hundred might refer to the Spartans who held Thermopylae against the Persians -- though they're hardly the best example of a free nation, given that the Spartan soldiers were part of an elite class that held down the majority of helots at least as strictly as the British oppressed the Irish.
But three hundred had another significance: It was the number of representatives in the old Irish parliament -- the one which had voted the Union, but which Davis (and O'Connell) proposed to recreate.
The "three men" I'm not sure about; too many possibilities.
For all that I'm carping about the historical accuracy, it cannot be denied that this song, with its stirring tune and brilliant tag line, is a very effective argument for nationalism. - RBW