'Foggy Dew': The meaning behind UFC fighter Conor McGregor's walkout soundtrack

Based on a poem, the lament documents a harrowing period of Irish history

Conor McGregor displays the Irish flag after beating Dustin Poirier on Saturday in a featherweight fight at UFC 178. AP
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Forget the courage it takes to don the gloves for a UFC fight – real bravery is stepping into that octagon to the sound of flutes.

Yet this is what will happen on Sunday, when Conor McGregor squares up against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi.

When the lights go down to signal the Irishman’s entry into Etihad Arena, the electric atmosphere will temporarily transform into something more ethereal.

But don't get it wrong, this is no Lord of the Rings-style pastoral number. As McGregor stalks through the arena, the impact of his walkout track gradually reveals itself.

The aforementioned flutes rise in intensity before singer Sinead O’Connor’s quavering vocals crash through as she sings: “As down the glen one Easter morn / To a city fair rode I / There armed lines of marching men / In squadrons passed me by.”

Thus begins a song of revolution and lament as it details a tumultuous period of Irish history that took place more than a century ago.

A failed campaign

The tune in question is Foggy Dew, a 100-year-old ballad sung by plenty of Irish singers, including Dylan Walsh to Luke Kelly.

Based on a poem by the late priest Charles O'Neill and arranged to the melody of old Irish folk standard Banks of the Moorlough Shore, the lyrics commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916, an armed insurrection staged by Irish republicans against British rule.

Launched during Easter week on April 24, the push was forcibly put down by British troops on April 29 with most leaders of the campaign executed.

Historians cite the ferocity of the British response as a turning point for the subjugated Irish and cemented their antipathy to the government.

So why does a song about a failed campaign continue to be celebrated in certain parts of Ireland today, let alone form a rallying soundtrack for what McGregor hopes to be a victory?

What are you fighting for?

A lot of it is down to O'Neill's potent lyricism, which is more concerned with the reasons for fighting as the battle itself.

While he details with an almost journalistic eye the events of the bloody week (And from the plains of Royal Meath / Strong men came hurrying through / While Britannia's huns with their long-range guns / Sailed in through the foggy dew) O'Neill's poem is a paean to self-determination.

It is a battle worth fighting for, he states, as the poem laments the loss of thousands of Irish troops who fought for the British in the First World War.

Wouldn’t it better, he asks, for them to die “under an Irish sky", as opposed to the foreign soil of Turkish villages Sedd el Bahr and Sulva?

He burrows that regret further by juxtaposing their "lonely graves" abroad with the reverence afforded to those slain in the Easter Rising: "their names we would keep where the Fenians sleep / 'Neath the shroud of the foggy dew."

In that light, you can understand the song’s appeal to McGregor, as it underscores his approach in and outside the ring.

As only the second fighter from Ireland signed to the UFC, he has always viewed himself as an outsider fighting for his flag with a finessed combat style that is rooted in street smarts.

The song’s intensity also compliments McGregor’s personal life, which despite some of its more controversial moments has always been marked by a certain tenacity.

All of these attributes will be in full and ferocious display in Abu Dhabi. When the flutes ring on fight night, they will signal the calm before the storm.