Derek Warfield on His Aer Lingus Disappearing Act
Derek's latest musical focus has been the music of the Irish in the American Civil War. Here (standing left), he dresses the part.

This article was first produced on 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 this second and final part, Warfield discusses Irish attitudes to historical songs. (Read Roy Beggs Jr's response HERE.)


Derek: (Beggs) then went on also to talk about Iraq, and I challenged him on that. He was claiming credit for the liberation of Iraq. I reminded him that America on two occasions in the last century rescued Europe and his country. He owed a debt of gratitude to those troops. Many of them were Irish and Irish-American. I said that to him in my letter of response. I also reminded him that some of those soldiers were arrested up in Derry after (World War II) for singing about Kevin Barry.

That's the way people like him like to feel, in control of situations. He was exposing a racism there because he wouldn't have the courage to admonish any American person for the singing of your national anthem because it was 'anti-English' or written during a war against English people. So, I made that point, that his offenses are purely directed toward Irish songs. There are lots of American ballads that I know from the two (American) wars of independence (Editor's Note: American Revolution and the War of 1812) ... that are satirical; they make fun of the British, they make fun of the army and they allude to the aspirations that the people had at the time. I wonder, would he be offended with those songs or is it just Irish songs?

WGT: Maybe he should try flying TWA and tell them to turn off "America the Beautiful," or something. He wouldn't get very far.

Derek: You could sing 'The Battle of New Orleans' to a guy like that and he wouldn't be offended because it's American. Yet, if 'The Battle of New Orleans' was an Irish song, he would be offended.

WGT: Simply because it's an Irish song.

Derek: Yes, because it's an Irish sentiment being expressed. As I reminded him, there's lots of things wrong with English society and what he supports. Remember their past empires, which many would believe is founded on racism. The whole empire was founded on racism. They're never self-critical of their own, those people. They're only ever looking at how good a person's garden is.

There is an 'Uncle Tom' mentality amongst many Irish people (in Ireland). ... They feel we should 'leave it in the past,' that 'we shouldn't be singing about it'.

WGT: That goes back to this whole idea of the monarchy, I think. One family rule, for generation after generation, tends to imbue that kind of thinking, I would think, Derek.

Derek: That's right. You're quite right. The English aspirations to democracy where Ireland was concerned have never worked. Ireland has never been treated in a democratic way. They've been treated by English governments over hundreds of years from a military-monarchy perspective. They listen to any Irish request; they've only acted on one. ... That catalogue of policies will change in our generation because the old people of Ireland won't stand for it.

WGT: As right they shouldn't. Has Bertie Ahern or the Irish government weighed in on this, Derek? Has Bertie said anything or is there any kind of apology coming from Aer Lingus to you personally?

Derek: No, Aer Lingus told the guy that prepares these things that they weren't changing it, at the moment.

WGT: Maybe if we, here in Irish-America have something to say about it, that could change.

Derek: Any support that I could get ... and I said this to a lady who's a travel agent, she called over here, she said she was outraged by it. I told her to write a letter. She did write a letter. She got a reply. In the reply, she said they softened their tone and it wasn't in response to (Beggs') complaint.

WGT: Oh, come on! How could it not be?

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Derek: I understand how shocked American people are. I know American society so well. It would never happen in America. I can imagine if you objected to some Black American song and if they took it off the air because you didn't like a sentence that was expressed.

WGT: It would be considered racist maybe or something like that.

Derek: You wouldn't get past the first sentence. ...

WGT: Right! Absolutely! What was the reaction of the British government? Did they have any kind of comment to what Aer Lingus did?

Derek: No, I don't think they did. No, and if I could use a term that African-Americans use all the time, that there is an "Uncle Tom" mentality amongst many Irish people here. Their attitude is ... they're absolutely afraid to say "no" to some of these people.

WGT: What's that saying ... "that evil triumphs because good men remain silent."

Derek: That's right. The fact is that a lot of these people respond because they feel it's the right thing. ... They look with a critical eye. Many Irish people don't like patriotic songs. They feel we should "leave it in the past," that "we shouldn't be singing about it." They've been listening to people like him. They act upon it.

WGT: They're trying to apologize for their own identity.

Derek: That's right!

WGT: They shouldn't do that, absolutely shouldn't do that.

Derek: You see the same in that in any culture or any race that suffers from oppression. We'd probably be in a much weaker state in this country, again, if it wasn't for Irish-America. It would be under the control of the English. You give us strength. You give us strength in this country, in every generation!

We don't believe that our traditions are ours alone, (we believe) that they're shared by many Irish-Americans, they're shared by many Irish-Australians, they're shared by the Irish race all over the world.

WGT: Thank you for saying so, Derek.

Derek: In fact, you're still doing it by calling up! I said that to another friend of mine. She's a travel agent, she called me. I couldn't get over her, the way she talked to me, how upset she was over it. She was outraged.

WGT: It could, arguably, have an impact on the travel business to Ireland to, in some small way.

Derek: Yeah, if the voices are loud enough, they might try and ignore them. It does fall on some ears.

WGT: Sure, sure.

Derek: It lets people know that we're not alone. We're not fighting ... We don't believe that our traditions are ours alone, (we believe) that they're shared by many Irish-Americans, they're shared by many Irish-Australians, they're shared by the Irish race all over the world.

WGT: The Wild Geese!

Derek: You see, he's not only offending Irish native-born people. By his statements, he's being belligerent towards the whole race of Irish people.

Views: 407

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


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