The revival of The Wolfe Tones

Nothing signifies an Irish night out more than a group of sweaty lads screaming along to Celtic Symphony as their chanting continues to ring in your ear as you gasp for air pushing and shoving through the crowd.  

This year’s Electric Picnic was no different, as crowds varying from ages 18 and up squeezed into a tent to recite the controversial repertoire of The Wolfe Tones.

Though many would argue that the songs are not only harmless but are a separate group of national anthems to enjoy as they swung the Irish flag through the band’s rendition of Grace.  

The Wolfe Tones are undoubtedly Ireland’s most famous folk band.

Now a trio, the band consists of the members Brian Warfield, Noel Nagle and Tommy Byrne. 

The band’s name is taken from the Irish republican political figure Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leader of the 1798 rebellion, and with lyrics such as “oh ah up the ra”, it is no mystery as to why many associate the band with the republican political movement in Ireland. 

The Electric Picnic performance received some backlash from critics who said such songs reflected, and could promote, political ignorance in young people unaware of the history associated with the words.

The Wolfe Tones’ Noel Nagle performing at Electric Picnic 2023. Photo: Liam Murphy

On Newstalk, the discussion raged after The Wolfe Tones attracted one of the largest ever crowds at the Electric Arena (one of the stages at Electric Picnic).  

“The Troubles were an entire generation ago,” one presenter said. “It means nothing to them.”

Given the fact that The Wolfe Tones have announced two 3Arena headliners for next year’s 60th anniversary, both shows with limited availability, The Liberty wanted to investigate just how serious the resurgence of The Wolfe Tones is.

The influence of The Wolfe Tones is undeniable, as not only has their music carried through generations but their personal connections to the Liberties has shone through their career.  

The band first formed in 1963 when Inchicore neighbours Brian Warfield, Noel Nagle, and Liam Courtney joined together to play music together, after learning tin whistle together in lessons on Thomas Street. Brian’s brother Derek Warfield joined the band in 1964, and then later that year Tommy Byrne replaced Courtney in the line-up, and the then four piece were formed, until Derek left the band in 2001.

Since then, Warfield, Nagle, and Byrne have continued to play to the masses.

Brian Warfield of The Wolfe Tones performing at Electric Picnic. Photo: Liam Murphy

The Liberty took to the streets of the Liberties to find out what locals thought of the popularity and resurgence of The Wolfe Tones. 

Two women spoke briefly to The Liberty as one woman claimed she “didn’t have an opinion on it any more.” The second woman said she didn’t know who they were.

However, one man, Jude Kiernan, who works for Dublin City Council, said that given the current situation of the country, the band shouldn’t be treated as an important issue.

“The fact that this is a talking point in the news during the cost of living crisis is just crazy,” Kiernan said.

“The band is making more money now than before – the same people giving out about it are singing along to the songs in the pub after a few drinks.”

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