It should be noted that the Scottish Gaelic phrase "Èirinn gu bràth," which means "Ireland until the Day of Judgment," is pronounced almost identically to the Anglicized phrase. It may seem surprising that a phrase which has come to so strongly represent Ireland could have come not from Irish (Gaeilge) but instead from Scottish (Gàidhlig). However, a Scottish song from the 19th century entitled "Erin-go-Bragh" may have had something to do with this unusual progression. It tells the story of a Highland Scot who is mistaken for an Irishman. The first two verses are:
- My name's Duncan Campbell from the shire of Argyll
- I've travelled this country for many's the mile
- I've travelled through Ireland, Scotland and a'
- And the name I go under's bold Erin-go-bragh
- One night in Auld Reekie as I walked down the street
- A saucy big polis I chanced for to meet
- He glowered in my face and he gi'ed me some jaw
|||19th Century Scottish song|
- Sayin' "When cam' ye over, bold Erin-go-bragh?"
The standardized spelling in modern Irish is "Éire go Brách"; however, "Éirinn" (which survives as the dative form in the modern standard) is the form historically used by native speakers and is the source of the Anglicized "Erin." This linguistic shift (dative forms replacing nominative) was common among Irish nouns of the fifth declension.
Other recent derivative spellings include "Érin go brea". This is sometimes translated as "Ireland the beautiful" - based on a loose translation of "go breá" as "is beautiful". However, this derivation and translation are not supported in the phrase's use as a war cry, nor in the language (in Irish, the "go" preposition, meaning "until" when following a dative OR nominative noun, does not readily lend itself to this translation)..
From the emergence of the Irish Patriot Party and its chequered success after 1780, a number of groups such as the Irish Whigs used phrases and slogans such as "Erin go bragh" to proclaim an Irish identity, even though the users may not have been Irish speakers. By the time of the 1798 rebellion the famous London cartoonist James Gillray cruelly portrayed the Patriot leader Henry Grattan as a rebel leader shouting "No Union" (no union with Britain) and "Erin go Brach". Where Gillray learned the phrase is not known. Grattan was not a rebel in 1798 but suffered in the aftermath for his liberal views.
However the phrase became Anglicized, it was already in use as "Erin Go Bragh" by 1847. In that year, a group of Irishmen serving in the United States Army during the U.S.–Mexican War deserted and joined the Mexican side. These soldiers, known as Los San Patricios, or Saint Patrick's Battalion, flew as their standard a green flag with a harp on it, with the motto "Erin Go Bragh" underneath. Variations on this flag design have been used at different times to express Irish nationalism.
By 1862 there was an emigrant ship operated by the Black Ball Line called the Erin go Bragh, which had the dubious honour of making the longest trip from Britain to Moreton Bay, Australia. She suffered many dead on the voyage, according to an unpublished contemporary account and, ironically, arrived in the same week that Black Ball's Young Australia completed the fastest crossing.
In the late 19th century, the Edinburgh Football club, Hibernian F.C. also had 'Erin Go Bragh' adorning their shirts. Founded in 1875 by Edinburgh Irishmen and the local Catholic Church, St Patricks, the club's shirts included a gold harp set on a green background.