The Memory of the Dead, better known as Ninety Eight, one of the best-known of Irish Republican songs, was first published in Thomas Davis’ paper, The Nation in 1842. It was written overnight after its author John Kells Ingram had spent an evening arguing Irish politics and history with a group of fellow Protestant students at Trinity College Dublin. Ingrams dared to speak of 98!
In 1842 the movement for “repeal” of the Act of Union between Ireland and Great Britain (1801) was, under the leadership of Daniel O’Connell, a mass movement. The Nation was the publication of its radical, or bourgeois-radical wing. The looming disaster of the potato-blight that first appeared in 1845 and continued until 1848, changed Irish politics radically, killing hundreds of thousands by starvation and driving out vast numbers of famine-refugees.
JK Ingrams pursued an academic career, becoming Professor of Political Economy at Trinity College Dublin. He did not support the movement for Home Rule which reached its peak in the 1880s, when Gladstone’s Liberal Party adopted Home Rule as its policy for Ireland.
Professor Ingrams addressed the TUC Congress in Dublin in 1880 (there was no separate Irish TUC until 1894) and brought his academic prestige behind the movement for livable wages and working hours that would allow workers the leisure to create decent family lives. Ingram was a “Comptist”, a positivist. In Britain the positivists, most notably Professor Beasley and the newspaper The Beehive, were friendly to the labour movement. Some of them would be foremost defenders in Britain and Ireland of the Paris Commune of 1871, the working class revolution that held Paris for six weeks, before its defenders were massacred by the victorious “white” army.
Before he died, early in the 20th century Ingrams made a manuscript copy of Ninety Eight, proclaiming that he would always defend brave men who opposed tyranny.
The Memory of the Dead By John Kells Ingram
Who fears to speak of Ninety-Eight?
Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriots' fate,
Who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave or half a slave
Who slights his country thus,
But a true man, like you, man,
Will fill your glass with us.
We drink the memory of the brave,
The faithful and the few.
Some lie far off beyond the wave
Some sleep in Ireland, too;
All, all are gone, but still lives on
The fame of those who died
All true men, like you, men
Remember them with pride.
Some on the shores of distant lands
Their weary hearts have laid;
And by the stranger's heedless hands
Their lonely graves were made.
But, though their clay be far away
Beyond the Atlantic foam;
In true men, like you, men,
Their spirit's still at home.
The dust of some is Irish earth
Among their own they rest;
And the same land that gave them birth
Has caught them to her breast.
And we will pray that from their clay
Full many a race may start
Of true men, like you, men,
To act as brave a part.
They rose in dark and evil days
To right their native land;
They kindled here a living blaze
That nothing shall withstand.
Alas! that might can vanquish Right
They fell and pass'd away;
But true men, like you, men,
Are plenty here today.
Then here's their memory--may it be
For us a guiding light,
To cheer our strife for liberty
And teach us to unite.
Through good and ill, be Ireland's still
Though sad as theirs your fate;
And true men, be you, men,
Like those of Ninety-Eight