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National Anthems

Liam Murphy has written a lively account of the National Anthems of EU Member States.

Murphy must have worked for the diplomatic corps as he finds a way to include the national anthems of the UK, Scotland and Wales. He places them in an appendix, a sort of Protocol you could say. God save the Queen is a fairly monotonous and obsequious dirge compared to the blood-curdling Scottish anthem, Flower of Scotland. Surprisingly, the Scottish anthem was only performed as an anthem for the first time at a rugby match in 1990.

My own personal favourite is the Welsh anthem which is appropriately stirring given Wales’ rich choral tradition - a full-throated effort at the Millenium stadium is hard to beat.

Here are ten interesting facts gleaned from the book.

1. Peader Kearney, who composed the Irish anthem, was the uncle of Brendan Behan and died in poverty in 1942 despite the fact that Amhran na bhFhiann was firmly in place as the official anthem. The Irish Government paid Kearney £1000 for the copyright.

2. The Marseillaise, despite being practically homicidal in tone, is everyone’s favourite. It was composed in one night in Strasbourg in 1792. The composer recalled that, “I went back to my room. I was slightly drunk, but I jumped to my violin, and with the first strikes of my bow, these notes came. I had this fever. Sweat was pouring off me - it was soaking the floor - but I couldn’t stop”.

3. The Italian national anthem was composed in 1847 in the house of the French Consul in Genoa which, Murphy says, may account for some similarity with La Marseillaise. Like the Irish anthem, it was written before Italian independence.

4. The Dutch national anthem, known as the Wilhelmus, dates back to the time of William of Orange and was composed in around 1568. William fought to defend Protestantism and became a crucial figure in the cultural heritage of Ireland’s Protestants, particularly in north; the famous King Billy.

5. The German national anthem was problematic after the Second World War. Claiming that Deutschland was ‘uber alles’, or ‘over everything’, pushed the boundaries of good taste in the circumstances. A compromise was reached by West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1951 when he decided that it would be kept but that certain verses would be dropped.

6. The State Song of Germany after 1871 was Heil die in Siegerkranz which shared the same melody as God Save the Queen which according to Murphy ‘was written by the French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully to celebrate the successful removal of a polyp from the anus of Louis XIV’.

7. The Greek national anthem is an astonishing 158 stanzas long. Mercifully, only the first two stanzas are sung at international sporting events as a full rendition would take longer the event itself. The anthem of Cyprus is the same as the anthem of Greece.

8. There are two national anthems that have no lyrics - those of Spain and San Marino. This would work well in Ireland where Amhran na bhFiann is generally not understood even by those who know the lyrics.

9. The Finnish and Estonian national anthems have the same melodies which is not surprising given the two countries’ ‘strong historical, emotional and linguistic affinities.’

10. Not surprisingly, the Swedish anthem is the least nationalistic and militaristic of European anthems. It praises Scandanavia more than Sweden and stresses the beauty of the region’s nature rather than the bravery of its soldiers.

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