If on your way to work
You were stopped by Irish soldiers
Would you lie down do nothing
Would you give in, or go berserk
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At the 35th year commemoration of Bloody Sunday
“Give Ireland Back to The Irish” was composed in the wake off what the media called the Bogside Massacre, also known as Bloody Sunday, in which 13 protesters were killed and 27 injured by British soldiers in Londonderry/Derry when they opened fire on a civil rights demonstration on the 30th January 1972. But what were the British army doing in Derry to begin with?
Simply put, during a period known as The Troubles of the late 1960s, the government of Northern Ireland officially requested help from the British Army after days of continuous rioting and civil unrest between the nationalists and the unionists. The nationalist paramilitary group known as the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) took this movement of British troops into Northern Ireland as an unwanted invasion. And so direct British rule was established in 1972 as the deadlock between the Provisional IRA and the British Army worsened. But this isn’t the whole story.
The city of Derry, also officially known as Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland, one of the oldest inhabited areas in Ireland. The prefix of “London” is symbolic of British rule over Northern Island going back to the Tudor conquest of the 16th century. The renaming to Londonderry took place after the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I (son of Mary, Queen of Scots), under whose rule the colonization of a large portion of Northern Ireland by Scottish and British settlers took place. So, when Paul and Linda McCartney simply wrote “Give Ireland back to the Irish” in their song of the same name released in 1972 (the debut single of the McCartneys’ band Wings), they were talking about something so steeped in history, so tricky and complex, that historians have predicted that the social consequences of “giving Ireland back to the Irish” would be enough to destabilize more than half of the United Kingdom, plunging all of Ireland and Scotland into chaos and civil war.
Bloody Sunday Centre, bottom of Shipquay Street, Derry-Londonderry (thanks, Kenneth Allen)
As this short history may imply, Northern Ireland at this time was so divided amongst itself that it could neither be successfully run by the British, nor the Republic of Ireland (the so-called Irish of the McCartneys’ song?). Of course, the McCartneys’ suggestion seems to be the obvious solution, the reasonable solution. Clearly, if Ireland did not belong to the Irish, then something must be wrong… right? But the McCartneys were assuming one thing: that there is a united group of people that one could call “the Irish” to whom the country could be given back.
Unfortunately, the internal split between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland goes back to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, when Northern Ireland refused to amalgamate with the rest of the country (the Republic of Ireland), preferring to remain under British control. This situation was aggravated by the internal split within Northern Ireland between the nationalists - Catholics in favour of a united Ireland, and the unionists – Protestants preferring to remain under Protestant British rule, making the McCartneys’ solution even less plausible. A compromise sadly remains out of reach, even as of 2013.
Bloody Sunday Memorial, Bogside, along Rossville Street (thanks, Kenneth Allen)
Although I find it difficult to criticize an ex-member of The Beatles on any account, considering that the McCartneys’ politically inflammatory single was released within weeks of the Bogside Massacre showed a severe lack of social responsibility, I can only assume one of two things: either the McCartneys were genuinely worried about the political situation in Ireland and naïvely thought that an inflammatory song (which was consequently banned for that reason) was a good way of helping the poor suffering people of Northern Ireland, or that they were trying to capitalise on the publicity provided by this horrifying event in order to promote the first single of their newly formed band, Wings. They wouldn’t be the first, or the last. U2 are to be held responsible for writing the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday
," from their 1983 album War
, which gets stuck in your head and makes your trigger-finger itchy. The actual event Bloody Sunday predates War
by 11 years, so it obviously couldn't have contributed in any way to the violence in Northern Ireland before its release.
Unlike Bono, who has not, to date, made formal apology for his sensationalist lyrics or his odious habit of capitalizing on human tragedy in order to further his career (or his awful and suggestive name), U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal apology to the people of Derry in 2010, once the Bloody Sunday Inquiry had found British soldier’s actions on that fateful day to be “unjustified and unjustifiable." But, they still haven’t given (Northern) Ireland back to the Irish, and now it may be a little clearer as to why.
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