Why does Ireland have Forty Shades of Green?

Glendalough in Shades of Green
••• Glendalough in Shades of Green. © Bernd Biege 2014

Okay, there is a lot of green here, but are there really forty (and exactly 40) shades of green in Ireland? When we think of Ireland, we think of the Emerald Isle, the shamrock, the "Wearing of the Green", and the 37 other almost proverbial shades of green. Always forty when the total is taken. But have you ever wondered just why we really do talk about "Forty Shades of Green"?

The Green Song, the Man, in Black

It is the fault of one man - none other than Johnny Cash.

The "Man in Black" was so taken in by the Emerald Isle that he went all green, and reputedly penned an whole album's worth in celebration of Ireland. Many of these songs seem to be lost. And while Cash seemed to be genuinely in love with Ireland at the time, songs from that period (it was 1961, the year of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces", Roy Orbison's "Cryin'" and "Running Scared", Don Gibson's "Sea Of Heartbreak", and Lonnie Donegan's "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On The Bedpost Overnight)", to name but a few of the best selling records) seem to be seriously sentimental and overwrought today.

Cash's signature Irish song is "Forty Shades of Green", including the confession that "most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary town [of long way to fame], and most of all I miss her lips as soft as eiderdown". Apart from Dingle, Donaghadee, the Shannon, Skibbereen, Shalimar, Cork, and Larne, making this a very all-Irish song.

And a celebration of the good old times when "the farmers drain the bogs and spade the turf". Never mind that a lot of these farmers might have told Cash to be on his way, preferring some modern comforts themselves.

And so ... Johnny Cash was responsible for creating the idea of Ireland being "forty shades of green".

This was added on by Ireland's seminal rock group "Boomtown Rats", with singer Bob Geldof also mentioning "sixty shades of red" in reference to the "Troubles". I hasten to add that the "Fifty Shades of Grey" are no relation, however distant (though the book was a best-seller in Ireland as well, not as prude a country as one might think).

The Reality

But does Ireland really have forty shades of green? Though nobody has actually counted them, this would be a good guess - green is the dominant colour in Ireland's landscape. The simple reason for this is the Irish weather. While generally described as "eternally changing", it is only changing within certain parameters. The influence of the gulf stream and the general climate combine to make Ireland well-balanced.

Seasons are not very pronounced - one usually enjoys "spells of" summer or winter, not the season as such. And even when Jack Frost nips, and snow falls, it will be on lush green fields. The green may fade a bit, but it never really goes away. So, as you will see when visiting Ireland: Johnny Cash was right - Ireland really has forty shades of green.

Okay, to be fair - there might actually be more. Forty is a rather arbitrary number that sounds great without exaggeration.

For the same purpose Cash should have done twenty, or sixty, or a hundred, even a thousand. A million may have sounded a bit too much, though. On the other hand, all the greens tend to blend into each other, so Ireland generally speaking is "green", with parts in shade, and occasional parts in sunlight, often glistening with dew (or a quick shower).

For the Collection?

Johnny Cash's original is available on Amazon as an instant download, both in the original version and as a 1990 live recording. For a version by Irish crooner Daniel O'Donnell, get his CD of the same name at Amazon ... or be a bit more adventurous and grab Dexy's offering of "Irish & Country Soul" - the crossover to end all crossovers.