Indeed, much of the Irish folk song canon comes down from the days of resistance to the British occupation. Songs of rebellion and mourning mixed together as people remembered heroes killed in the quest for freedom. To this day, some of these songs are too controversial to be sung in public in many places.

Cockles and Mussels, well known as a pub song, comes from a different tradition. It’s a deeply mournful tune about the days of the Potato Famine when the crop failed and millions of Irish either starved to death or emigrated. This during a time when absentee landlords harvested bountiful fields of wheat and other grains that and sent them to England.

Irish people grew more than enough grain to feed themselves, but they were essentially indentured (rather than chattel) slaves allowed only to eat the potatoes they grew on their own private plots of land. When the potato crop failed two years running, all the Irish had to eat were mussels and other shellfish scavenged from the seashore. They weren’t enough. Untold numbers of men, women, and children starved to death as they watched full wagons of food that they had grown being carted away and shipped across the Irish Sea.

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.