“Shall My Soul Pass Through Ireland”


"In a dreary British prison where an Irish rebel lay, By his side a priest waits... 'Father, tell me if I die shall my soul pass through Ireland?'" The rebel dies for Irish freedom; the singer asks that his prayer be granted


Galvin reports this piece under the name "Terence McSwiney," connecting it with a Lord Mayor of Cork (properly Terence MacSwiney) who resisted British rule (more or less; he was found to be carrying notes for an anti-British speech), was imprisoned in London, and died after a 73-day hunger strike (1920).

It should be added that the British were right about his opposition to British rule: MacSwiney was a senior officer in the Volunteers (second in command in Cork, according to Tim Pat Coogan, _Michael Collins_, p. 122), and that he did not win election in Cork as such. Rather, his superior Tomas MacCurtain was elected Mayor in the great Sinn Fein election of January 1920. MacSwiney was appointed his deputy, and succeeded when MacCurtain was shot.

MacSwiney's slow death was part of a movement of hunger strikers, of whom McSwiney was the most notable but perhaps not the one who was making the greatest sacrifice; according to Calton Younger, _Ireland's Civil War_, p. 116, he also had tuberculosis -- and died in a hospital ward, not a prison, where he was treated with great care.

The British had originally tried force feeding the prisoners (which at the time meant pouring milk and beaten eggs down a tube forcibly inserted into the throat via the mouth or, if the prisoner would not open his mouth, the nostrils). Even in the hands of a good doctor, this inevitably resulted in bruising of the nose, mouth, and throat, and in the hands of an incompetent, the results could be disastrous. Another hunger striker, Thomas Ashe, had died of the effects of force feeding (see Robert Kee, _Ourselves Alone_, being volume III of _The Green Flag_, pp. 33-34). This caused a commission to declare force feeding barbaric; as a result, the British stopped using it, and hunger strikers started dying of hunger instead.

It is not impossible that the song is about MacSwiney, but supporting evidence is lacking. See also the notes on "The Boys from County Cork."

This is listed in at least one place as by "AE" (with no space). - RBW

Blondahl03 has no liner notes confirming that this song was collected in Newfoundland. Barring another report for Newfoundland I do not assume it has been found there. There is no entry for "Shall My Soul Pass Through Ireland" in _Newfoundland Songs and Ballads in Print 1842-1974 A Title and First-Line Index_ by Paul Mercer. - BS

Cross references


  • Omar Blondahl, "Shall My Soul Pass Through Ireland" (on NFOBlondahl03)


  1. PGalvin, p. 67, "Terence McSwiney" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. BI, PGa067


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1959 (NFOBlondahl03)
Found in: Ireland