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:

U 15.4630 (Massed bands blare Garryowen and God save the king.)

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:

Let Bacchus' sons be not dismayed

But join with me, each jovial blade

Come, drink and sing and lend your aid

To help me with the chorus:

Instead of spa, we'll drink brown ale

And pay the reckoning on the nail;

No man for debt shall go to jail

From Garryowen in glory.

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:

In the town of Rathfriland itself, about one o’clock yesterday morning, the inhabitants were roused from their slumbers by the sounds of fife and drum, and shouts of “No Surrender” intermingled with the loud notes of the "Protestant Boys", "The Boyne Water", a new local air called "No Repeal", "Kick the Pope before us" (the Orange soubriquet for "Garryowen") "Croppies lie down", &c. After marching and countermarching for some time, an Orange flag was hoisted on the church.

Freeman’s Journal (1845), 11 July [citing the Banner of Ulster]

The air was known as early as 1828 by its abbreviated title Kick the Pope:

Saw three boys standing on side of the road at Islandrainey – one of them was whistling a tune – there were about a dozen others with witness – James Macaulay was with him – they said the tune was "Kick the Pope".

Belfast News-letter (1828), 5 August

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.

Now, on the 2nd July, you say you saw a party of boys playing fifes and drums, and the tune they played was "Kick the Pope"? – Yes; that is the tune they played.

Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the origin and character of the riots in Belfast, in July and September, 1857 (1857-8), p. 120

There are numerous occasions on which Kick the Pope is played not sung. Others include:

The Orangemen again – another ruffianly scene. (From Northern Whig of Wednesday, August 10.) […] A crowd, almost as large as that of the previous night, had gathered in Sandy-row about eight o’clock, and shortly afterwards the “funeral procession” started, accompanied by fifers and drumers, who played alternately the “Dead March” and "Kick the Pope".

Freeman's Journal (Sydney, New South Wales) (1864), 19 October p. 1

Mr. T. D. Sullivan (Dublin, College Green) […] In Belfast and Londonderry Orange bands played such tunes as "We'll kick the Pope before us," "Croppies lie down," and "The Protestant Boys," tunes which were specially selected to annoy Catholics. Happily nothing of the kind was done in Dublin by the Catholics.

1886 Commons Sitting (1886), Wednesday, 1st September1

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:

Derry, Tuesday night […] Songs with the refrain, "Kick the pope", were indulged in freely, the police escorting the performers, who, for the most part, were intoxicated and behaving with the utmost violence.

Termountain and Colorado Catholic (1902), 6 September p. 2

Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated) knows one of these songs, too:

Kick the Pope – One version of this Orange faction chant is a nagging street rhyme, "Tooral, looral, kick the Pope; / Hang him up wi' taury rope" (Leslie Daiken, Out Goes She; Dublin Street Rhymes [Dublin, 1963], p. 20. ['Taury' = 'tarry'.]

When the Kentucky Irish American for 30 October, 1909, remarks that:

[..] an organized mob of Orangemen mobilized from town and country,[…] smashing the windows of respectable Catholic residents, singing verses of "kick the Pope", and this notwithstanding the presence in town of a large force of police […]

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.

Dolly’s Brae

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:

And the tune we played was “The Protestant Boys” right over Dolly's Brae.3

In 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:

If the hon. Member has heard them all before he ought to be ashamed. Sometimes this gospel of religious hate is put in even a coarser form - for instance, we saw this in Derry: - "We'll kick the King and we'll kick the Pope all over Dolly's Brae. Hurroo, to Hell with the Pope! No King, no Pope, no holy water and no surrender.

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:

Referring to the Unionist campaign in Ulster, he said his blood revolted when he heard decent but uneducated Orangemen chanting the last words of the chorus "We will kick the Pope before us right over Dolly’s Brae".

Manchester Guardian (1913), 31 March p. 7

In the year of Ulysses’s publication Kick the Pope is firmly associated with Dolly’s Brae:

I saw a tramcar filled with men wearing the King’s uniform of the R.I.C. come towards me, while each and all of these guardians of the public peace in our rather inflammable city were bellowing at the top of their voices: "The tune we played was Kick the Pope right over Dolly’s Brae"; and the end of this familiar chorus was emphasised by blood-curdling whoops.

Catholic Press (New South Wales) (1922), 12 January p. 12 [citing the Ulster Examiner]

The association continues into the modern period, though by now it starts to give way to references to the less vitriolic “Protestant Boys”:

Here the victories, which increased Unionist strength to 36 in a House of 52, were greeted by the singing of the Orange song, Dolly's Brae, with its refrain: "And the song we sang was Kick the Pope Right over Dolly's Brae".

New Statesman (1949), Vol. 37 p. 172

At one street corner a man thrashed hell out of a Lamberg drum, its terrorising staccato drawing yells of approval from the crowd while he, the blood flowing from his wrist, seemed lost in some frenzied trance.

Oh Dolly's Brae, oh Dolly's Brae, oh Dolly's Brae no more

For we'll kick the Pope and we'll kick him hard Right over Dolly's Brae.

1982 Gerry Adams Falls Memories (1994) p. 117


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.

John Simpson


1 Joyce refers to the tune/song “Croppies lie down” at U 2. 276.

2 Joyce refers to Dolly’s Brae at FW 246.24-5: Arranked in their array and flocking for the fray on that old orangeray, Dolly Brae.

3 See Katrin Pietzonka And the Healing Has Begun (2013), p. 93.

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