Poem written by Ulster poet Peadar Ó Doirnín (1704–1796). It is most famous as a song, and especially set to an air composed by Seán Ó Riada (1931–1971). As a modern song, 'Mná na hÉireann' is usually placed in the category of Irish rebel music; as an eighteenth-century poem it belongs to the genre (related to the aisling) which imagines Ireland as a generous, beautiful woman suffering the depredations of an English master on her land, her cattle, or her self, and which demands Irishmen to defend her, or ponders why they fail to. The poem also seems to favor Ulster above the other Irish provinces.
Kate Bush recorded her rendition in 1995 for the 1996 compilation album Common Ground - Voices of Modern Irish Music. According to Donal Lunny, who contacted her for this contribution, 'She was very excited with the idea of singing the Irish in a way that Irish speakers would understand, and of conveying the meaning of the song through the sounds of the words. I helped as much as I could. She had Seán Ó Sé’s recording of Mná na hÉireann as reference. She was as faithful to the pronunciations as she could possibly be. It was with characteristic care and attention that she approached it. She did not stint one bit. Of course you’ll get people saying, `Oh, you’d know she doesn’t talk Irish straight off’. You wouldn’t know it straight off. I would defend her efforts as being totally sincere. No matter how perfect she gets it, she’s not an Irish speaker. This may rankle with some people.'
The track was reviewed as 'impressive' by Hot Press, saying that Kate’s 'fiery interpretation….may well prove to be among the most controversial cuts on Common Ground'. Indeed the Irish Times review of Common Ground singled out Kate as 'fumbling her way through' the song. NME was more positive about the track: "Since Lunny made a significant mark on her 'Sensual World' album, she repays him with a swooning version of 'Mná na hÉireann' (Women Of Ireland) that’s as good as anything she’s done this decade."
Kate about 'Mná na hÉireann'
It was fun and very challenging …..I will eagerly await comments from all Irish-speaking listeners in particular. I’m sure Ma gave me a helping hand! (Kate Bush Club Newsletter, December 1995)
Kate Bush: vocals
Nollaig Ni Chathasaigh: solo violin
Laoise Kelly: Irish harp
Strings arranged and conducted by Flachra Trench
The Irish Studio Orchestra: strings