Wed 23 Jan 2019 | 06:34

The Songs of the Six Nations

The Songs of the Six Nations
Wed 23 Jan 2019 | 06:34
The Songs of the Six Nations

The Six Nations is great for the rugby played and also for the ceremonies around the matches. These ceremonies include those moments of proud emotion when the anthems are sung.

Each team has a turn, visitors first. At home the Irish actually manage two anthems.

National anthems are relatively young but then a country in the sense of a geographic area with a single government is a relatively new concept. The oldest of the anthem is England’s God Save the Queen, essentially a hymn – a sung prayer.

The whole idea of anthems at sporting events is a rugby idea, originating in Wales in 1905 as a counter to the All Blacks’ haka.

The anthems are not the only singing as the Four Home Unions have other songs for letting out the fervour and fun of the occasion. And then the Irish go one better when playing in Dublin – two anthems and song.

Italy go furthest back in their anthem, including in it the helmet of Scipio Africanus, who, it seems, is till being honoured for conquering Hannibal’s Carthage in 202 BC.

The battle the Scots celebrate was at Bannockburn when Robert the Bruce beat Edward II. That was in 1314.

But the anthems the Italians and the Scots sing are much more recent compositions.

The Scottish anthem and the second Irish song are, in a sense, political compromises.

Whatever the origin, you would like to sing with your country’s team when it is about to play. And if your teams is not playing, you may just like to sing along.

The Anthems

England: God Save the Queen

It’s origin is unknown but has been ascribed to John Bull in 1619. That is John Bull the 16th/17th century composer, not the fictional John Bull who is meant to epitomise the patriotic English man of his day, which was in the 18th century.

It’s “Queen” now and has been since 1952. If a male takes over and becomes king, King will replace Queen.

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save The Queen!
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen!

France: La Marseillaise
Words and music: Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
Date: 1792

This was the time of the French Revolution- the people’s uprising against the monarchy and its henchmen.,It was originally a song for the army of the Rhine to encourage them in their war against Austria, but was soon adopted by France’s revolutionary forces and became the national anthem in 1795. The idea of revolutionaries marching up from the southern city of Marseille to Paris gave it its nickname which has become its name.

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!


Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
Lest an impure blood
Soak our fields!


If it’s a cold day in Dublin and you are out on the field, you need to dress warmly as you will have the president of the Republic of Ireland introduced to the teams and the match officials, the visitors’ anthem and then the two Irish anthems, the first one in Gaelic, the second a rugby song.

National anthem: Amhrán na bhFiann – A Soldier’s Song.
Words: Peadar Kearney in English, translated to Gaelic by Liam Ó Rinn
Music: Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heeney
Date: 1910, adopted as the national anthem in 1926.

This was the time of Ireland’s bid for freedom from England.

Amhrán na bhFiann

Sinne Fianna Fáil,
atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
thar toinn do ráinig chugainn,
Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil, chun báis nó saoil,
Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaídh amhrán na bhfiann.


Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the gap of danger,
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

That done, in Gaelic, it’s time to sing Ireland’s Call.

This is meant to encompass both factions of the divided Ireland – the republican south and the United Kingdom’s north.

The four proud provinces are Leinster, Munster and Connacht in the south and Ulster in the north.

Rugby football was for many, many years the only activity in which the whole of Ireland was united.

Words and music: Phil Coulter, a Catholic born in Northern Ireland
Date: 1995

Come the day and come the hour,
Come the power and the glory!
We have come to answer our country’s call,
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Ireland, Ireland,
Together standing tall!
Shoulder to shoulder,
We’ll answer Ireland’s call!

Italy: Fratelli d’Italia – Brothers of Italy

Words: Goffredo Mameli
Music: Michele Novaro
Date: 1847

This was composed during the battle for a unified Italy – the risorgimento, the time of Garibaldi, when Italy became a nation and not just a geographic expression. It did not become Italy’s Inno (national anthem) till after World War II.

Fratelli d’Italia,
l’Italia s’è desta,
dell’elmo di Scipio*
s’è cinta la testa.
Dov’è la Vittoria?
Le porga la chioma,
ché schiava di Roma
Iddio la creò.
Stringiamci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l’Italia chiamò.
Stringiamci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l’Italia chiamò! Sì!


Brothers of Italy,
Italy has woken,
Bound Scipio’s helmet
Upon her head.
Where is Victory?
Let her bow down,
For God created her
Slave of Rome.
Let us join in a cohort,
We are ready to die.
We are ready to die,
Italy has called.
Let us join in a cohort,
We are ready to die.
We are ready to die,
Italy has called! Yes!

Scotland: O Flower of Scotland

There was a time when only one anthem was sung when Scotland played England and that was God Save the Queen. The last time that happened at Murrayfield was in 1988, on a miserable day when many in the crowd voiced their objection, loudly and rudely, to God Save the Queen.

The Scottish Rugby Union looked for a song of their own. In 1974, the great B&I Lions were touring South Africa and on a bus Gordon Brown heard Billy Steele sing Flower of Scotland, hit song of the Corries, a folk group who released the song in 1974. Brown proposed, the Unions accepted and Flower Scotland became Scotland’s popular anthem, a new song about an old fight.

Words and music: Roy Williamson of the Corries
Date: 1967 about a battle fought in 1314 which Scotland won.
Adopted by the Scottish Rugby Union in 1990.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again,
That fought and died for,
Your wee bit hill and glen,
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward,
To think again.

Those days are past now,
And in the past
they must remain,
But we can still rise now,
And be the nation again,
That stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward,
To think again.

And remember to pronounce To as Tae (Tay).

Wales: Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – Land of my Fathers

Welsh people sing. They do so in chapel, church and rugby ground. Elizabeth John of Pontypridd was the first to sing it in a chapel in Maesteg. It rapidly became popular.

The first time it was sung at a rugby match was in 1905 when for the first time Wales played the All Blacks. And Wales won.

Words: Evan James
Music: James James
Date: 1856

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.
Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.


The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
Land of bards and singers, famous men of renown;
Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
For freedom shed their blood.
Nation [or country], Nation, I am faithful to my Nation.
While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,
O may the old language endure.

The Songs

These are spontaneous outbursts of singing by the crowd, a part of the match but not a part of the official ceremonies.


Swing low, sweet chariot.

It is a 19th century Negro spiritual that became popular in the rugby clubs of England, often accompanied by dubious gestures.

At most two verses are sung.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.


The Fields of Athenry is a song about the cruelty of British in deporting food thieves to Australia during the bitter famine of the mid 19th century. But it was written by Pete St John in the late 1970s.

It is only a part of the song that gets sung at the rugby.

Low lie, The Fields Of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing,
It’s so lonely round the Fields of Athenry.

The whole song

By a lonely prison wall,
I heard a young girl calling
Michael they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn
So the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay
Low lie, The Fields Of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing,
It’s so lonely round the Fields of Athenry.
By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
“Nothing matters Mary, when you’re free”
Against the famine and the crown,
I rebelled, they brought me down
Now it’s lonely round the Fields of Athenry
By a lonely harbour wall
She watched the last star falling
As the prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she’ll live in hope and pray
For her love in Botney Bay
It’s so lonely round the Fields Of Athenry

Trevor Millar, brother of Sid, sang it magnificently – and often.


Loch Lomond is Scotland’s biggest lake, a bplkace of great beauty. Sometimes at a rugby match the crfowd will sing about it in a traditional song.

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.


The Welsh sing and they have more than one song in their repertoire – Calon Lân, Cwm Rhondda, Delilah and Sosban Fach, but it is the hymn Cwm Rhondda that is most sung.

Cwm Rhondda, often referred to as Bread of Heaven, was written by John Hughes during the religious revival of the early 20th century when, ironically, many communities stopped playing rugby to concentrate on religious observance. Now the hymn with it English translation by William Williams is sung at rugby!

Usually just the first verse of the three-versed hymn is sung.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more

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The Songs Of The Six Nations - England | Rugby365