Deputy Entertainment Editor Julie Crowley takes a look back at Ireland’s weird and wonderful One Hit Wonders – this issue, we arise and follow Charles Haughey.
Charlie’s Song (Arise and Follow Charlie) by The Morrisseys
“Hail the leader, hail the man,
With freedom’s cause it all began.
With Irish pride in every man,
We’ll rise and follow Charlie.”
Charles Haughey ran a high-profile general election campaign in 1981. It was his first election as leader of Fianna Fáil. Campaigning was disrupted by protests from supporters of the Republican hunger strikers in the Maze Prison. The Anti-H-Block Committee fielded abstentionist candidates who received Republican support. The Stardust tragedy, where 48 young people lost their lives in a Dublin nightclub fire, caused the Ard Fheis and election to be delayed until June. Meanwhile, the country was in debt. Haughey had declared the previous year “As a community we are living away beyond our means.” The notoriously corrupt Haughey had expensive tastes, purchasing £700 Parisian shirts, racehorses, a yacht, and even an island off the coast of Kerry called Inishvickillane. How did Haughey’s team attempt to improve his image? By painting him as a man of the people in a novelty song that was played relentlessly throughout the campaign.
Donie Cassidy, founder of CMR Records and campaign manager of the election, co-wrote the song with Pete St. John, a Dublin folk singer. A young Irish band was hired. The Morrisseys were a Tipperary folk group consisting of three siblings: Billy, Norman and Louise Morrissey. Charlie’s Song, a jingoistic, hagiographical and annoyingly catchy ersatz-folk tune, was born. It portrays Haughey as a brave leader who will unite the nation: “Young and old, we all approve, / He’s kept the country on the move, / He’ll help the nation to improve.” It became inescapable. The Irish blog comeheretome.ie quotes a contemporary report from the Kilkenny People in June 1981: “Touring with Charlie is not only exhausting – it can be hazardous, with all those high-powered cars burning up country roads as entourage and security men dash at breakneck speed from one town or village to the next. It is not for one with a musical ear either. After a couple of dozen plays, Charlie’s Song loses whatever appeal it may have had initially – except perhaps for the tone deaf.”
RTÉ refused to play the song on the radio because of the risk of biasing the election. This move was criticised by Fianna Fáil politicians, including a young Bertie Ahern. Despite this, the song was successful. According to Irishcharts.ie, the song peaked at no.7 and stayed in the Irish charts for eight weeks. The Morrisseys had some subsequent success with folk music. A few follow-up singles achieved minor chart success, but none at the same level of Charlie’s Song. They generally made covers of folk songs. The Old Rustic Bridge reached no.20 in 1982, and 45 Years reached no.15 in 1985. The Morrisseys disbanded in 1988, but this was not the end of their story.
Despite the song’s success, and his flashy pre-election campaign, Haughey failed to achieve his ambitions in 1981. Fianna Fáil lost six seats. A minority coalition of Fine Gael and Labour came to power. After that government collapsed in 1982, Haughey became Taoiseach again in the next general election. Donie Cassidy went on to become a Fianna Fáil TD and later a Senator. Pete St. John, meanwhile, is most famous nowadays for writing The Fields of Athenry. After the disbanding of the Morrisseys, Louise Morrissey became a breakout star when she branched into the country and Irish music scene. She went on to have a successful career in country music that has lasted for over 30 years.
The true extent of Haughey’s corruption, misappropriation of funds, bribery, and offshore bank accounts was not yet known among the general public in 1981. Charlie’s reputation now lies in tatters. As comeheretome.com notes, “It’s a record not many people would boast of owning in a collection today perhaps, but there are certainly thousands of copies of it in houses up and down the country and it’s an interesting relic of twentieth century Irish cultural history.” The song is mostly forgotten, except by some people who remember it from Haughey’s 1981 campaign. It’s a bizarre, cringeworthy and unique one-hit wonder: “It’s Charlie’s song, we’ll sing as one / Charlie’s song, we’ll sing along / With Charlie’s song, we’ll march along / We’ll rise and follow Charlie.”