Back Home in Derry; Behind the Music
Bobby Sands, an IRA activist, was a political prisoner in an Irish Prison at the time he wrote this song. He was in for possession of a handgun
The song about the forced deportation of Irish prisoners to Australia (Van Diemen’s Land) undertaken by the British between 1791 and 1853.
When Bobby wrote this he called it "The Voyage". The names in the song were those of his cell mates.
The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. Sands decided that other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals to maximize publicity, with prisoners steadily deteriorating successively over several months.
The hunger strike centered on five demands:
- the right not to wear a prison uniform;
- the right not to do prison work;
- the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
- the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
- full restoration of remission lost through the protest
Sands died on 5 May 1981 in the Maze's prison hospital after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27.
The song was made popular by Christy Moore in the 80's.
This is what Christy Moore says about how he came about the song;
I was playing in Derry and staying with The Barrett Family. After my gig we were gathered in Chamberlain St having a banter and drinking tea when a bit of singing broke out. A lad, just home from The Blocks, sang these verses and subsequently wrote out the words for me. At the time the name Bobby Sands was not known to the world as it is today.
The following night I played in Bellaghy where the same process took place when I stayed with Scullion. Later on he "sang" McIlhatton for me and told me it had been written by Bobby Sands with whom he had shared a cell while "On the Blanket". The name was becoming known to me.
He used the air of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald from Gordon Lightfoot, an air which I suspect has earlier origins. My version of Bobby's song is shorter than the original.
Back Home in Derry
In [Am] 1803 we [C] sailed out to sea
[G]Out from the [D]sweet town of [Am]Derry
For [Am] Australia bound if we [C] didn't all drown
And the [G] marks of our [D] fetters we [Am] carried
In our [Am] rusty iron chains we [Em] sighed for our wains
Our [Am] good women we left in [Em] sorrow
As the [Am] mainsails unfurled, our [C] curses we hurled
On the [G] English, and [D] thoughts of to[Am]morrow
Chorus: [C]Oh.. [G] ... I [Am] wish I was [G] back home in [Am] Derry
[C] Oh.. [G] ... I [Am] wish I was [G] back home in [Am] Derry
At the mouth of the Foyle, bid farewell to the soil
As down below decks we were lying
O'Doherty screamed, woken out of a dream
By a vision of bold Robert dying
The sun burned cruel as we dished out the gruel
Dan O'Connor was down with a fever
Sixty rebels today bound for Botany Bay
How many will meet their reciever
I cursed them to hell as her bow fought the swell
Our ship danced like a moth in the firelight
White horse rode high as the devil passed by
Taking souls to Hades by twilight
Five weeks out to sea, we were now forty-three
Our comrades we buried each morning
In our own slime we were lost in a time
Of endless night without dawning
Van Diemen's land is a hell for a man
To live out his whole life in slavery
Where the climate is raw and the gun makes the law
Neither wind nor rain care for bravery
Twenty years have gone by, I've ended my bond
My comrades ghosts walk behind me
A rebel I came - I'm still the same
On the cold winters night you will find me
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