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Ireland and the Irish in America: A Living Musical Tradition: There Were Roses

Companion to a display in the Rohrbach Library featuring library resources related to Ireland, Irish immigration to the United States, and Irish traditional music

There Were Roses -- A Song of Troubled Times

       In 1974, musician and peace activist Tommy Sands lost two friends to the sectarian violence that plagued Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. Allan Bell, a Protestant, was murdered near the town of Newry. A short time later, Sean O’Malley, a Catholic and, ironically, Bell’s close friend, was killed in retribution for Bell’s murder. There Were Roses is a poignant retelling of this event.

       The signing of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement in April 1998 established a plan of government which may finally bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland. During the last days of the negotiations, Tommy Sands took a group of Protestant and Catholic musicians, singers, and children to Belfast. They stood outside of the building where the negotiations were being held and sang, hoping to show the politicians that the people were behind the peace effort. Some of the politicians, including longtime bitter enemies, joined them. Even in today's cynical world, music can be a force for good.

      To hear Tommy Sands sing There Were Roses, click here. The words to the song appear below:


There Were Roses

My song for you this evening it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of this troubled northern land,
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind
I'll tell you of two friends one time who were both good friends of mine.

Allan Bell from Banagh, he lived just across the fields,
A great man for the music and the dancing and the reels.
O'Malley came from South Armagh to court young Alice fair,
And we'd often meet on the Ryan Road and the laughter filled the air.

There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of the people
Ran together

Though Allan, he was Protestant, and Sean was Catholic born,
It never made a difference for the friendship, it was strong.
And sometimes in the evening when we heard the sound of drums
We said, ''It won't divide us. We always will be one.''

For the ground our fathers plowed in, the soil, it is the same,
And the places where we say our prayers have just got different names.
We talked about the friends who died, and we hoped there'd be no more.
It's little then we realized the tragedy in store.

It was on a Sunday morning when the awful news came round.
Another killing has been done just outside Newry Town.
We knew that Allan danced up there, we knew he liked the band.
When we heard that he was dead we just could not understand.

We gathered at the graveside on that cold and rainy day,
And the minister he closed his eyes and prayed for no revenge.
All of us who knew him from along the Ryan Road,
We bowed our heads and said a prayer for the resting of his soul.

Now fear, it filled the countryside. There was fear in every home
When a car of death came prowling round the lonely Ryan Road.
A Catholic would be killed tonight to even up the score.
''Oh, Christ! It's young O'Malley that they've taken from the door.''

''Allan was my friend,'' he cried. He begged them with his fear,
But centuries of hatred have ears that cannot hear.
An eye for an eye was all that filled their minds
And another eye for another eye till everyone is blind.

So my song for you this evening, it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of our troubled northern land,
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind.
I'll tell you of two friends one time who were both good friends of mine.

I don't know where the moral is or where this song should end,
But I wondered just how many wars are fought between good friends.
And those who give the orders are not the ones to die.
It's Bell and O'Malley and the likes of you and I.

                                                 Words and music by Tommy Sands

History of the Conflict in Northern Ireland

For additional information on the Conflict in Northern Ireland check these links:

Tommy Sands Links

For additional information on Tommy Sands check this link: