De Valera, black flour and the Emergency or, tings I lernt over de Christmas

By Kevin O’Sullivan

In the course of Ryan Tubridy’s RTÉ radio show one morning in November, the conversation turned to oral history and its importance in recovering histories otherwise lost (in this case of Irish women at war). Our grandparents and those of their generation, Tubridy said, were like ‘walking archives’. Not quite how they’d put it themselves I’m sure, but I think you get the idea. In that spirit, here’s a catchy little ditty about the wartime Irish government, relayed by my grandmother in west Clare this Christmas after receiving a gift of Tom Garvin’s Judging Lemass (reviewed here):

‘Bless de Valera and Seán McEntee,
They gave us the black flour,
And the half-ounce of tea.
They rationed the cocoa and all,
But they couldn’t ration the porter at all.
They brought starvation
To our little nation,
So cheer up St Vincent de Paul.’

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15 Responses to “De Valera, black flour and the Emergency or, tings I lernt over de Christmas”

  1. Ciara Says:

    Great lyric, Kevin.

    In the same vein, I’ve also heard the version:

    Goodbye de Valera and Sean MacEntee
    Who gave us the brown bread and half ounce of tea.
    We are saying goodbye to them all
    As out of the Dail they must crawl.
    We’ll give them the pension
    When they stand to attenion,
    So vote Clann na Poblachta, all!

    – The tone of both is so similiar that perhaps they are part of the same song?

    • puesoccurrences Says:

      Thanks for that Ciara. It certainly sounds like part of the same song, and I had thought that there was something missing – even some words from certain lines – in my grandmother’s version. Hopefully we can reconstruct this, piece by piece.

      Anyone out there heard any more verses? Or, even better, does anyone have an idea as to its origins and author? Or the tune we should be singing it to?


      • Ciara Says:

        Kevin, this has really intrigued me so I’ve had a quick look through Kevin Rafter’s “The Clann”. There is reference to it, with an additional verse of:

        Come on MacBride, the brave and true,
        Few men in the Dail could equal you.
        For me I know you’ll do your best,
        God speed you to victory with the rest.

        Apparently it was called ‘Under One Flag?’ and it published in the Tipperary Star at the time of the 1948 general election. It was written by an ‘agricultural worker’s wife’ from Clonmel. It’d be rather interesting to see the full-length version.

        What a shame that newspapers don’t include such lyrics / report on those found in ballot boxes in the same way that they in the early years of independence. My personal favourite is a slip of paper found in a ballot box for a by-election in 1927 – ‘May God protect us from all creeping insects such as bugs and fleas, the leaders of Labour and National League’.

  2. Fintan Hoey Says:

    My Leaving Cert history teacher told our class of a similar rhyme. I think it went something like this.

    ‘God bless Lemass, DeValera and Seán MacEntee,
    They gave us [the brown?] bread and the half ounce of tea’.

    From what I remember this was in praise of Fianna Fáil’s performance in the Emergency and is notable for the inclusion of Lemass. Perhaps there were various versions of the song that did the rounds and were altered depending on the singer’s views?

  3. puesoccurrences Says:

    Thanks Ciara and thanks Fintan,

    I like the idea that a rhyme emanating from an ‘agricultural worker’s wife’ from Tipperary could morph into different things, but also that it could become so well known and remembered more than sixty years later. I have a feeling, though, that there might be a few more verses out there somewhere. It seems a little short, even with the additional verse from Rafter.

  4. Frank Says:

    To add some further info, this is a parody of a popular wartime song “Bless ’em all”. I only found a reference to a single verse: Bless ’em all, Bless ’em all/The long and the short and the tall/Bless de Valera and Sean MacEntee/ They gave us brown bread and a half ounce of tea. A longer variation on this verse is found in The Labour and the Royal by Eamonn MacThomais which substitutes black for brown bread and adds the following: But we’re saying goodbye to them all/As back to the barracks we crawl/If we don’t get cocoa we’re going to go loco/So cheer up, me lads, bless ’em all.” Interestingly, the ditty briefly became the subject of a dail debate on 20 May 1953 in the course of a debate on a sponsored radio programme when Oliver J Flanagan’s reference to black bread was hotly disputed by Donnchadh O Briain who insisted it was brown bread. It’s nice to see that such matters of vital national interest were being debated in the dail at this time!

  5. puesoccurrences Says:

    Thanks for the additional info Frank. Makes sense that the song would be based on a popular melody in order for it to stick. Good to see little has changed in Dáil Éireann too!

  6. Patrick Maume Says:

    The version I heard had a slight variant: “Sure they rationed the cocoa and all/ Which needn’t be rationed at all”. I suspect the “God bless” is ironic.

  7. paul Says:

    well , the version i know is , bless em all bless em all, the long and the short and the tall , god bless De valera , and sean mcatee , they gave us brown bread and a half ounce of tea , and they ration the coco and all , and the pictures that hang on the wall…. and im desprate to get the full song !!!

  8. You have been reading, in order of appearance… « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] De Valera, black flour and the Emergency, or tings I lernt over de Christmas, 5 January 2010 In which Kevin and Pue’s readers try to re-create a song. […]

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  10. Martin Says:

    My Mam and Da used to sing:

    They rationed the cocoa and all,
    But rationed themselves not at all.
    They’re bringing starvation
    To our little nation,
    So cheer up St Vincent de Paul.

  11. Una cunningham Says:

    so we’re saying goodbye to them all,

    the long and the short and the tall’

    you’ll’bless De Valera and sean McEntee

    for giving us brown bread and 1/2 oz of tea

    so were saying goodbye to them all

    please get them out of the dail

    you’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean

    so pack up ang god bless them all

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  13. john Says:

    thanks for helping with my father’s memories

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