Ireland's First Ever Rugby World Cup Anthem Was Even Worse Than Ireland's Call...

Ireland's First Ever Rugby World Cup Anthem Was Even Worse Than Ireland's Call...

Primarily out of hostility to the song, there was much scoffing at the notion of TV3 making a whole documentary about 'Ireland's Call'.

And while the second half of the documentary dragged on a bit, the first half was thoroughly engaging and laid out the rock solid rationale behind the song's composition.

On away tours in the pre-professional era, Ireland brought no music to the pre-match festivities. But the advent of the World Cup necessitated an anthem.

On the eve of the World Cup, three Irish players, Davey Irwin, Nigel Carr and Philip Rainey were injured by an IRA car bomb. Carr, a triple crown winning back-row from 1985 was forced to retire.

Nigel Carr

In this light, Amhran na bhFiann wasn't deemed a suitable song. It simply didn't attract the allegiance of the Ulster players.

'God Save the Queen' obviously wasn't acceptable and hadn't been used since Ireland played at Ravenhill in the 1950s. Indeed, a dispute over the anthem seemed to precipitate the IRFU's decision to avoid Ravenhill for home games. In 1954, Ireland played Scotland in the Five Nations up north.


It was customary for the two teams to stand for one rendition of God Save The Queen before games in Belfast. (It wasn't until 1988 that Scotland stopped using God Save The Queen as their anthem, switching to Flower of Scotland).

However, the night before the game, Irish captain Jimmy McCarthy told the IRFU chairman that the southern based players would remain in their dressing rooms for God Save The Queen. Only the four Ulster players would stand for it. McCarthy was told to sleep on it, but a night in bed didn't alter his mood.

Eventually, a compromise was hammered out, whereby an abbreviated version of God Save The Queen, known in Ulster as 'the Salute' was played. Ireland won the match 6-0. They would not play at Ravenhill again until a pre-World Cup friendly in 2007.

When they got to the World Cup in New Zealand, the team, shagged from over-training, readied themselves for their opener against Wales. However, they'd no anthem.

Syd Millar went upstairs to the men in the tannoy and they tried to find an acceptable anthem. They could find nothing.

Millar didn't elaborate upon the songs that were ruled out of order, but presumably most were contaminated by politics to some degree.


They eventually hit on a warlike ditty that would stir the soul and quicken the blood and all that guff...

Rose of Tralee.

The bemused players stood to attention as a the tannoy blasted out 'as the pale moon was rising...'

Trevor Ringland described it as the 'worst recording he'd ever heard'. David Irwin, recuperating on the bench, said it sounded 'pathetic'.

Indeed, Ireland's first ever game in the Rugby World Cup came on a day heavy with negative superlatives.

For they proceeded to lose 13-6 in a match Neil Francis has asserted stands alone as the worst game of rugby union ever played


As Hugo MacNeill relayed to the programme, the song did at least give coach Mick Doyle an out when fielding irksome questions. When asked why a certain player hadn't been selected, Doyle allegedly replied that 'it's quite simple. We couldn't be certain that he knew all the words to Rose of Tralee'.

The Rose of Tralee serenaded the Irish players for their three subsequent games. Ireland would go on to qualify for the quarter finals by finishing as runners-up in the pool, though this was a rather modest achievement given that it only involved beating Canada and Tonga.

They were blitzed by a scintillating Australia side in the opening half in Sydney. However, they staved off a hammering by winning the second half, as Doyle would later boast.

This event was partially the catalyst behind 'Ireland's Call'. The IRFU engaged Phil Coulter, and asked him to come up with something. 'Ireland's Call' was the result and it was first played at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Although, when he first played it before the record company the IRFU blazers, the main criticism was that 'Cork' wasn't mentioned in the lyrics. You may not be surprised to learn that this criticism emanated from a Cork delegate.

The song has provoked much derision and criticism but it is about as stirring as one could expect from one written in the office of a PR agency in South Dublin. And it isn't The Rose of Tralee.

Read more: The Own Point And 10 Other Rare Delights In Sport


Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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