Derek Warfield on His Aer Lingus Disappearing Act

This article was first produced on TheWildGeese.com in April 2003.

WGT's Tom Madigan speaks with legendary folk singer Derek Warfield about his differences with Ulster Unionist politican Roy Beggs Jr., and Aer Lingus' decision in March to pull his music. In Part 1 of 2, Warfield scores the amnesia of many Irish today, and praises Irish America's role in Ireland's freedom struggle. (Read Roy Beggs Jr's response HERE.)

In March, Roy Beggs Jr. and an Ulster Unionist colleague were jetting into Boston from Dublin, via Aer Lingus, when, as Beggs tells it, both were "shocked" by something in the Irish state airlines in-flight magazine—a music channel dedicated to songs from ex-Wolf Tones folk singer Derek Warfield.

Roy Beggs Jr. website
Roy Beggs Jr.

Beggs, who represents East Antrim in the Northern Ireland Assembly, explained in a March 25 news release: "Listed under (Warfield's) section were song titles such as 'Ten Dead Men,' 'Remember Bobby Sands', 'Volunteers of Ireland', 'Patriots of Erin', 'Fenian Volunteers', and 'Fighting Irish'. In this day and age, when much is made of human rights and equality issues, we as British citizens were shocked to see this blatant promotion of militant, armed republicanism."

The legislator wrote to Aer Lingus, Beggs states, complaining "about the inappropriateness of their in-flight entertainment and asked them to remove the offensive material." Aer Lingus Chief Executive Willie Walsh’s office replied, stating, in part, "It became clear to us that some of our customers could find some songs on this particular channel inappropriate and, for this reason, the channel was replaced earlier this month."

Warfield's lyrics constitute 'a glorification of murder and terrorism under the guise of Irish republicanism.'
Roy Beggs Jr.

Beggs concluded in his news release: "For make no mistake about it, even a cursory listen to the lyrics of the aptly named Mr. Warfield, shows a glorification of murder and terrorism under the guise of Irish republicanism. In today’s context of international terrorism, an equivalent would be the speeches of Osama Bin Laden being played on a trans Atlantic Arabian airline."

Derek Warfield, a legend in the world of Irish folk music, was the leader and lead singer of The Wolfe Tones from its inception in the Irish folk revival in the '60s, until he set out on his own a few years ago.

Born in Inchicore, Dublin, in 1943, Warfield was educated at Synge Street C.B.S. and then apprenticed as a tailor until he was drawn to performance, his first love. He resides in Kilcock, County Kildare, with his wife Nuala. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Warfield has recently turned his attention to the Irish diaspora, particularly America's Irish, and the prodigious musical output of America's Civil War. He now has two albums devoted to that conflict's Irish-inspired music. He will be performing at the Adams County Irish Festival on July 19 with his new band "The Sons of Erin."

But it is Warfield's decades-long identification with the Irish republican movement that has garnered him Beggs' enmity. WGT's Tom Madigan interviewed Warfield in April via the phone, and the singer, during the 27-minute interview, doesn't mince any words, taking to task Beggs, British imperialism, and the "appeasement" of Ireland's state-sponsored airlines.

derekwarfield.com.
Derek Warfield

WGT: Is there anything you would want to add to the response on your website or would like to say to our online audience? Do you want to revise anything?

Derek: No, I covered every aspect of it in my response to this politician, this pro-English guy. His complaint or his... the fact that he was offended has nothing to do with offense. It has to do with intolerance. People like him don't like to be reminded of the litany of horror that was part of our history. The fact that he would begrudge the Irish people the only means that they had to commemorate their war dead. We didn't have the ability in Ireland because of the colonial rule to remember our heroes in monuments of stone. We weren't allowed to put them up. It was 100 years before the men of 1798 were remembered in stone. But they were always remembered in song.

You see, people like him, they don't look at their own traditions. ... They've lived in a privileged society for so long that they don't like to see any representation of Irish patriotism or Irish nationalism.

WGT: It disturbs them, it reminds them of what they've done. Well, maybe they've got consciences, Derek. Maybe it's a stark reminder of what they've done.

Irish America gave us strength ... to carry on the struggle.

Derek: Well, I don't think they have, to be honest now, I don't think people like him think like that. The manner in which we remember our war dead and our patriotic aspirations has been determined by our history. We're changing that now through this generation because this generation is remembering and since we've attained freedom in the 26 counties. Don't forget it took 80 years for us to remember Kevin Barry and give him a military funeral. And that's even in the Free State! So, we're only really coming to terms with the fact that we can openly commemorate those people who were important and defended our rights in Ireland. I think it's very sad, that that man would begrudge the one expression that could not be killed; it was the song. It's a sad reflection on his own views; it shows the shallow view he has of things, that he didn't think that through. I think I made a point, the English traditions of remembering their war dead and so forth go back centuries. They take pride in honoring the English people and I don't want to change that. It's their way too, you know.

WGT: Do you know what I find amazing, Derek? He flies the Irish state airline, and why is he so amazed that they would play your songs? It basically speaks to the heart and soul of the Irish people. It's remarkable, in that sense, that he first heard the song or second, that he was offended by it. What would he expect? They wouldn't play "God Save the Queen."

Derek: That would be a rational response. Everything you said is absolutely true. His complaint had nothing to do with (offense). He doesn't want to see any expression of Irish patriotism, anywhere! The man would begrudge the air that I breathe. ... Up until a few years ago you could not display any flag that expresses Irish nationalism in the North.

It was 100 years before the men of 1798 were remembered in stone. But they were always remembered in song.

of Ireland. People were slow to express any form of patriotism in Ireland because there were very real consequences for people who did so in the past. So we've lived in a very secretive society in Ireland for generations because of our history. Unlike you in America, (where) you do have freedom of expression and have allowed Irish and Irish American people to express themselves freely without fear or repercussion. I've always believed, if it wasn't for Irish America, I mean, Irish America gave us strength, to Irish people to carry on the struggle. I made this point on my show.

WGT: My heart goes back. I'm only third generation (American) myself, Derek.

Derek: It's good that you say that. Quite recently, I did an act on Robert Emmet. (Emmet's brother Thomas Addis Emmet) and the generation of people who were exiled from Ireland achieved tremendous positions in America. Their voices were respected. They made real contributions to American republican and democratic values. Those men and the generation that followed all could so only in America.

What he did was he strengthened the people back home by what he achieved in America. Padraig Pearse went to America in 1914. The most important speech he made was in Brooklyn. He spoke at the Emmet Monument Committee. He reminded them of the American society and what they've achieved. When Padraig Pearse came back from America, he was imbued with stronger, more self-confident positions.

The same is true of James Connolly. When James Connolly came back from America, he had spent eight years there, he was re-invigorated by what he knew was achievable. The value, from my perspective, of Irish America and it's championing of the cause in this country, has always been undervalued by a lot of people because the people that championed that cause in America didn't seek any reward. They didn't want reward; they did it out of sheer patriotism.

WGT: Thank you for saying so, Derek.

Derek: I'm probably in a bit of a privileged position myself because through my life, I've traveled to America and back to Ireland. The one thing I've learned to understand is that it was no different for the people 100 or 200 years ago. I've come to understand that they have the same aspirations.

WGT: It's a human aspiration, it's a human longing to be free.

Derek: Exactly. I always remind the people that Thomas Jefferson said that there are rights that are inherent rights.

WGT: Is there anything you could do, vis-à-vis, Aer Lingus taking your music off their flights, perhaps some kind of punitive (legal) action, you could take perhaps, toward the airline? Obviously, Beggs is a Unionist, and he's going to do what Unionists always do, that would be expected from him. But Aer Lingus, I would say, it's shameful that they did that.

It is an act of appeasement, and he was calling me 'bin Laden.' ... His policies have more in common with bin Laden than mine.

Derek: Another American friend of mine made the same point to me a week ago. If somebody else objected to other types of music ... if some other politician didn't like the "rap channel."

WGT: Well, they don't have to turn it on. They could just change the channel.

Derek: There was a choice there. ... You don't have to switch me on if you didn't want to hear that type of song.

WGT: It's just another act of appeasement to the Unionists. They're just trying to placate these people.

Derek: It is an act of appeasement and he was calling me 'bin Laden.' That's what he called me.

WGT: Oh, my God! That's a disgusting comment. You're a wonderful person, a beautiful human being and to compare you to this monster is an outrage!

Derek: His policies have more in common with bin Laden than mine.

READ PART 2

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Tags: Aer Lingus, Derek Warfield, Roy Beggs Jr, Traditional Music, Travel

Comment by Bit Devine on September 6, 2013 at 10:46am

"WGT: Well, they don't have to turn it on. They could just change the channel"

This was my very first thought. If I am looking through the music channels on a flight, I am not going to click on "Rap" or any other genre of which I am not fond.

Talk about much ado about nothing!

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 7, 2013 at 3:18am

I like his music and have several of his cds but there is a time and a place. Provo songs might be still popular in the north but in the republic if you insist on playing them you are limiting yourself to a  very small audience and  a lot of civilised people would shy away from you. Its akin to listening to haterock or whitepride music.We also tend to differentiate between rebels songs pre 1970 and post 1970. 

If they started playing 'the billy boys' at Bushmills people would also take offence. Rebel songs are barely played in tourist pubs as those tourists who actually understand the lyrics feel uncomfortable listening and sometimes unwelcome. I have never flown to America but I would hope that American airlines would not use 'Gangsta Rap' to promote American culture.

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