Tree of Liberty, The
DESCRIPTION: "Sons of Hibernia, attend to my song, Of a tree call'd th' Orange." Barbarians and Frenchmen are joined against the tree. "Hundreds they've burn'd of each sex, young and old". Exit Sheares and other traitors. "Derry down, down, traitors bow down"
AUTHOR: "by J.B. Esqu, of Lodge No. 471" (Source: Zimmermann)
EARLIEST DATE: 1798 (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: rebellion execution Ireland patriotic
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmermann 95, "The Tree of Liberty" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "The Brothers John and Henry Sheares" (subject of the Sheares Brothers)
cf. "Croppies Lie Down (I/II)" (tune)
NOTES: Zimmermann: "John and Henry Sheares, who were United Irishmen -- and Protestants --, were hanged in Dublin in July 1798." - BS
Very many leaders of the 1798 -- including Wolfe Tone -- were in fact Protestant; they had the education and the income to be in position to form such conspiracies. And Ireland was not yet so polarized over religion as it later became; as Robert Kee points out (see The Most Distressful Country, being Volume I of The Green Flag, p. 99):
"This whole system of torture [and repression of the rebellion] was being carried out on the Irish population largely by Irish soldiers, a great proportion of them Catholics of the poorest class in the milition, who were ready enough to do their duty against their fellow-countrymen as unworthy rebels. Of all the troops available for the government in Ireland before and during the coming rebellion, over four-fifths were Irish."
The Sheares brothers were lawyers (Kee, p. 54), who succeeded to high places in the United Irish leadership after the arrests of the initial leadership council in March 1798. They themselves were in custody on May 21 (Kee, pp. 100-101). Thus they played no real part in the rebellion, but they were hung as what we might call accessories before the fact.
In any case, they don't seem to have been very well equipped for their role; Thomas Pakenham, The Year of Liberty, p. 59, says they were "hardly the stuff to lead a revolutionary army," and they were far too trusting, bringing an informant into their confidence based simply on his taste in literature (p. 78). Maybe it was because John Sheares, at least, was given to bombast himself; Pakenham (p. 96) prints a proclamation he was found to have written at the time of his arrest, and it's way over the top.
The Liberty Tree was originally a French symbol (which in English was spread by the writings of Thomas Paine), but the idea became popular in areas governed by England; this song and "Ireland's Liberty Tree" are examples of its use in Ireland. Scotland also had Liberty Tree songs, although there is little evidence that they became traditional; for an example, see p. 109 of Kenneth Logue's article "Eighteen-Century Popular Protest: Aspects of the People's Past" in Edward J. Cowan, editor, The People's Past: Scottish Folk, Scottish History 1980 (I use the 1993 Polygon paperback edition). There are also some Liberty Tree songs in American songsters, and Jean Thomas published something we have filed as "The Liberty Tree (I)," although I again question whether these are traditional. - RBW
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