Kicking the Pope before us
U 15.4717-18: (In strident discord peasants and townsmen of Orange and Green factions sing Kick the Pope and Daily, daily sing to Mary.)
The mythology and bibliography of Irish marching songs is complex. What might have been known as Kick the Pope by Loyalists in the mid- and late-nineteenth century – when Joyce’s father would have first known it – may not have been the same as the Kick the Pope of Bloomsday, or yet again of 1922, when Ulysses was published. The reason for this is that the marching song does not stand still. To investigate the origins of “Kick the Pope” we need to return to the end of the eighteenth century.
We’ll kick the Pope before us
The traditional air Garryowen dates from the late eighteenth century, where it is said to have been developed as a drinking song by the youths of Garryowen, an area of central Limerick. Joyce refers to it eighty lines before he mentions Kick the Pope:
Garryowen is a rousing quick-step, and it was widely adopted as a
marching song, most notably by Custer’s 7th Cavalry. The opening
verse and chorus traditionally run:
It was used as the tune to many other songs too, and in the early days particularly Dan O’Connell in Purgatory. Kick the Pope (more fully We’ll Kick the Pope before us) was an alternative Loyalist and Orange name for the tune Garryowen:
The air was known as early as 1828 by its abbreviated title Kick the Pope:
Rather surprisingly, sources seem unable to supply the lyrics for the Orange version, and in all references found in the nineteenth century Kick the Pope (before us) is a “tune” or an “air” which is played by the marching or military band, and is not described as a song.
There are numerous occasions on which Kick the Pope is played not sung. Others
Both longer and shorter names for the tune co-exist in the nineteenth century, and any reference to Kick the Pope in this period can be taken as referring to this tune. It has been suggested that the title of the tune, We’ll kick the Pope before us, was simply regarded as a slogan and didn’t imply the existence of a full set of lyrics. As a slogan the words could be sung to the final line of the chorus of the traditional air Garryowen. Alternatively, a set or various sets of lyrics may remain to be discovered.
Kick the Pope
As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth we start to hear intimations that Kick the Pope was sung as well as played. But the picture has changed slightly. The refrain Kick the Pope has proved distastefully popular, and is now more widely used in a number of songs, as this American newspaper demonstrates:
Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated) knows one of these songs, too:
When the Kentucky Irish American for 30 October, 1909, remarks that:
it is not clear which song is being sung. The regular absence of “We’ll” from the old tune We’ll kick the Pope before us perhaps suggests something new. The later emergence of the so-called “Kick the Pope” marching bands shows the slogan losing specificity and being applied generally to “blood and thunder” anthems.
A new contender comes strongly to the fore as we move into the twentieth century. The “Battle” of Dolly’s Brae in County Down, 1849, took place when a thousand-strong Orange Parade continued marching across Dolly’s Brae, rather than – as was expected - returning the way it had come. In what appears to have been a chapter of accidents shots were fired and Catholics died.2
The event was remembered in an uncompromising Orange anthem, with subtle differences of wording between versions. The version normally presented nowadays includes the line:
the early years of the twentieth century it was more regular to replace “The
Protestant Boys” with the more aggressive “Kick the Pope”. So T. P. O’Connor in
the British House of Commons on 9 June, 1913:
The old tune We’ll kick the Pope before us is referred to within the text of Dolly’s Brae, and it seems to be this unusual occurrence that leads people increasingly to regard Dolly’s Brae as the leading Kick the Pope song. Variation in the words led the Manchester Guardian to quote a style fusing the older title Kick the Pope before us and the more recent Dolly’s Brae:
In the year of Ulysses’s publication Kick the Pope is firmly associated with Dolly’s Brae:
The association continues into the modern period, though by now it starts to give way to references to the less vitriolic “Protestant Boys”:
The song referred to by Joyce is likely to be the aggressive Dolly’s Brae. Whilst the earlier tune We’ll kick the Pope before us enjoyed considerable popularity as a marching song, it was not until it was referred to in Dolly Brae, at a time when particularly bitter anti-Catholic lyrics were in evidence in Orange songs, that it achieved the menacing notoriety that led it to be regarded as an anthem of “Orange” factions. Since Joyce’s day we have seen the expression Kick the Pope broaden to encompass a range of “blood and thunder” anthems that do not necessarily include the original expression.
Joyce's Allusions >