The Minstrel Boy from Irish Melodies Number 5
The Minstrel Boy from Irish Melodies Number 5

Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies are his best-known works. These 124 Irish tunes, arranged for voice and piano with newly-minted lyrics by Moore, were published in ten numbers between 1808 and 1834. The Gibson-Massie Moore collection evidences their popularity as domestic entertainment in the Romantic era with the multiple distinct imprints of each number (thirty for Number one alone) and in the multi-national circulation of Moore’s lyrics (a topic for a future blog post). The series gained a renewed popularity in the Victorian period through the 1846 edition illustrated by Irish artist Daniel Maclise.

Indeed, the most iconic of Moore’s Melodies have become thoroughly ingrained in our modern culture. Foremost amongst these is The Minstrel Boy from Number five. This is often associated specifically with the cause of Irish political freedom–for example as featured in ‘Reflecting the Rising’, the RTÉ centenary concert to mark the 1916 Easter Rising–but which in brass band arrangement has also become a regular feature during the annual Remembrance Sunday service held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London in November to honour all who have suffered or died in war. The Minstrel Boy, with its celebration of freedom and homage to brave personal sacrifice, has also been adopted by film-makers to mark or commemorate actions as diverse as those of the ‘1st United States Voluntary Calvary’ in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Rough Riders, 1997), the American Invasion of Normandy in World War II (Saving Private Ryan, 1998), and a failed US Army mission in Somalia during the early 1990s (Black Hawk Down, 2001). It is Moore’s poignant lyrics that have given the tune, ‘The Moreen’, this particular resonance:

“The Minstrel-Boy to the war is gone,

In the ranks of death you’ll find him;

His father’s sword he had girded on,

And his wild harp slung behind him.

‘Land of song!’ said the warrior-bard,

‘Tho’ all the world betrays thee,

One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,

One faithful harp shall praise thee!’

The Minstrel fell! – but the foeman’s chain

Could not bring his proud soul under;

The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again,

For he tore its chords asunder;

And said, ‘No chains shall sully thee,

‘Thou soul of love and bravery!

‘Thy songs were made for the pure and free

‘They shall never sound in slavery.’”

Are you aware of any arrangements or recordings of Moore’s The Minstrel Boy? If so, we would be delighted to learn of these through the comments page of this blog.

Images Courtesy of Special Collections, The McClay Library, Queen’s University Belfast


  1. I have recently uncovered from my vast collection of just about everything an edition of Thomas Moore’s Irish melodies dated 1813 with the address of Mayfield house Ashbourne .
    There is a written note on the first page saying that this book belonged to my farther Thomas Reid and now belongs to me Ann Elizabeth Reid march 1930
    It seems to be three volumes bound into one book .
    Beautifully printed in sepia each page has the clear indentation of the printers press.
    Would you be able to help me with some information about this I am particularly keen to know it’s rarity
    My family has a rich Irish Tasmanian history ( Knox-Barret & Morton ) Irish colonials and I am always wanting to add to my knowledge of their times I hope for a reply. Peter Morton

  2. Reading the above, I was reminded of the song’s appearance in another film: ‘The Man who would be King’, featuring Sean Connery and Michael Caine and (I think) some occasional playing of part of the melody on a trumpet or cornet.

    One of my favourite arrangements of this tune is by Gordon Langford for ‘British-style’ brass band (not the military/wind band version usually heard on Remembrance Sunday). It was recorded by the Black Dyke Mills band. See
    Such beautiful cantabile cornet playing!

  3. I think Moore was wracked with guilt after the deaths of his friends during the United Irishman’s Rebelion of 1798, among them Wolfe Tone. Although he championed Catholic emmancipation and the Independence Struggle he did so only in song.
    It’s lovely though that his songs are sang by all soldiers no matter what they fight for.

  4. Hi,did Thomas Moore write Love there dearest as a poem,or a song…I heard Brendan bower singing this song many years ago and it’s so beautiful. Did someone else put mucus to these words…
    Thank you

    • Thanks for your questions, Patrica Bracken. It’s likely that Moore wrote it as a lyric; he wrote many songs outside his three big series (Irish Melodies, National Airs, and Sacred Songs.

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