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This is about John Boyle O'Reilly, the leader of a 1848 Irish uprising after the Great Famine. He was banished to Australia for rebelling against the government.
Van Dieman's Land is the former name for the Australian state of Tasmania. British convicts were sent there for committing crimes and forced to live in the dirty jail cells there. Now in Tasmania at the sites of the jail cells, they are used for ghost stories during the night. (thanks, james - new york, NY)
The Edge sings lead on this song.
There is a completely different traditional Irish folk song of the same name.
U2 recorded this at The Point Theater in Dublin and used it in their movie Rattle And Hum.
This is based on an old Irish folk song called "The River is Wide."
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