Music Notes

My Four Green Fields

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Four Green Fields is a 1967 folk poem and song by Irish musician Tommy Makem, described as a hallowed Irish leave-us-alone-with-our-beauty ballad. Of Makem’s many compositions, it has become the most familiar and is part of the common repertoire of Irish folk musicians.

The song is about Ireland (personified as an old woman) and its four provinces (represented by four green fields), one of which remains occupied (Ulster) by the British (strangers) despite the best efforts of the Irish people (her sons), who died trying to defend them. 

Its middle stanza is a description of the violence and deprivation experienced by the Irish, including the people in Northern Ireland. At the end of the song, one of her fields still shows the promise of new growth: ‘But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers; My fourth green field will bloom once again,’ said she.

The song is interpreted as an allegorical political statement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The four fields are seen as the Provinces of Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht with Ulster being the ‘field’ that remained part of the United Kingdom after the Irish Free State separated. The old woman is seen as a traditional personification of Ireland.

Makem frequently described the song as having been inspired by a drive through the no man’s land adjoining Northern Ireland, where he saw an old woman tending livestock. She was oblivious to the political boundaries that loomed so large in the public’s eye; the land was older than the argument, and she didn’t care what was shown on the map. Makem commonly sang the song as an encore.


‘What did I have?’ said the fine old woman
‘What did I have?’ this proud old woman did say
‘I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, they fought to save my jewels
They fought and died, and that was my grief’ said she


‘Long time ago’ said the fine old woman
‘Long time ago’ this proud old woman did say
‘There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved by mountain valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood’ said she


‘What have I now?’ said the fine old woman
‘What have I now?’ this proud old woman did say
‘I have four green fields, one of them in bondage
In stranger’s hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers
My fourth green field will bloom once again,’ said she


FORTY SHADES OF VERSE Michael Walsh. A treasure trove of illustrated Irish stories and original verse that draws on the pastures, forests, glens, rivers and lakes of Ireland for inspiration. A master of the poet’s pen, it is said that the map of Ireland is on Michael’s face and his unique poetry is eloquently articulated in a language that has brought him international respect.

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