"FOLK songs don't dress things up and they don't make things pretty." So said Kerry's Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, summing up the form's ability to speak truth to power, or maybe just offer consolation to the powerless, on Michael Morpurgo's Folk Journeys on Radio 4 on Monday.

Morpurgo, above, the former children's laureate best known as the author of War Horse, had set out to learn how folk songs reflect human experience, beginning with those that dealt with conflict.

In particular he was interested in the song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, a brutal account of the impact of war on one particular soldier.

"Songs like Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye are pretty in your face, pretty visceral," Nic Amhlaoibh pointed out. "It's definitely PG 13."

Well, yes. One version of it includes a description of the returning soldier which goes: "You're an armless, boneless, chickenless egg." There's no artful concealment there.

The programme suggested that Johnny … makes for a telling comparison with its near contemporary tune, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, which is all martial airs and celebration. It was this tension between songs that lauded and those that condemned violence that fuelled Morpurgo's programme. The difference between propaganda and truth-telling, you might say.

Banknock's own Karine Polwart was also on hand to talk about her own grandfather's experience of the Second World War. Or rather what she didn't know about it since he never spoke about it.

All that unspoken trauma and unspoken grief, Polwart pointed out, had consequences for the men who fought and those that came after them.

Johnny doesn't always come marching home. And even if he does, is he really Johnny anymore?

Listen Out For: Archive on 4: Harold Evans. The former Sunday Times editor, who died last month at the age of 92, is remembered with this interview he recorded on the eve of his 90th birthday.