Re Sunday Bloody Sunday - Bono's and Lennon's

Stephen McBride ([email protected])
Wed, 19 Aug 1998 06:57:34 +0100

Dear All

This is mostly in answer to the guy who likened U2's "Sunday
Bloody Sunday" to John Lennon's. This may get a little long
winded. Please be tolerant and forgive me. My emotions are still
fraught as, like all in Ulster, I come to terms with the horror of

These two songs are not in any way related. As I've said
previously, I was there the first time the song was played in Belfast
in 1982. That night Bono said to the audience, "If you don't like
this song, we'll never play it again". He was aware of just how
highly strung tensions can be in Northern Ireland. He was also
aware of how he could be misinterpreted, because he is from the
Irish Republic, which is not only a completely alien culture to all in
Northern Ireland (NI Catholics have a completely different outlook to
Southern Catholics), but is also a country viewed with some
hostility by many Northern Protestants. Bono, as an Irishman was
aware of this.

John Lennon wasn't. Much as I like the Beatles, this is a crass
disgusting and historically inaccurate piece of early seventies, New
York radical chic rabble rousing. Lennon knew nothing of his
subject matter. How many people would understand references to
Stormont in Greenwich Village?!

Now the concept of the "Irish" American irritates me for a number
of reasons, which can be summed up as follows. If you are born in
America, you are an American. Simple as that. You may have
Irish antecedents, but... you are American, immersed in American
culture and the American way of life. You are no more Irish than I
am Zimbabwean!!

To understand Northern Ireland, you have to have grown up in
Northern Ireland, and even then, it doesn't work, because most
people grow up on one side of the religious divide or the other,
totally unaware of the other's alien culture, even though it may just
be down the road. I was 21 before I had a firm Catholic friend. We
simply came from a radically divided society.

Have you noticed that U2 actually say very little about Northern
Ireland? As I've said, that's because they're from the Irish Republic
which is as different to the north as Canada is to Sudan!! They are
entirely different cultures, and thankfully U2 have always
recognized that, as Dubliners, they are very isolated from the
horrors of Northern Ireland. Bono is on record as saying this in a
British TV programme from 1987, called "World in Action", which
looks at their impact on Irish society, intercut with live action from
their Croke Park concert (which I have on tape, btw, if anyone is

To fully appreciate a band like U2, and what they say especially on
Ireland, you have to experience them live in Ireland, north or south.
I've seen them in England, where they are far more relaxed, and in
both Ireland's where there is an added tension in the show. Makes
for a great show, but if you're from here, you pick up on their mixed
emotions as a band, playing in a very divided society. And this is
something the band understand. Bono comes from a mixed
marriage, Edge and Adam have parents who are Welsh and
English (regarded as outsiders by many Irish).

Why I respect U2 isn't because of what they say about Northern
Ireland. It's because of what they don't say, because they realise
that often to speak casually can inflame.

When U2 played a free concert in Belfast this June, just before the
vote on the alas crippled Peace process, I will always remember
Bono's words. He said, "we're here to help both sides overcome
their fears", and on stage, he was flanked by David Trimble and
John Hume, the two architects of the Agreement, and politicians
from opposing camps. Bono rtealised the importance of
appearances, and obviously understood the subtle nuances in
Northern Irish political life, that can mean the difference between
peace and death.

"Irish" Americans simply do not understand this. Just like the
Rattle and Hum quote, they bluster on and on and on about a
country most of them have never visited, and they glorify a
"struggle" they know little about, or have only heard the myths
about. "Irish" American influence is one of the biggest things that
keeps the volence in Northern Ireland alive. Gerry Adams, the
cynical and murderous leader of Sinn Fein/IRA (they are the same
organisation) understands this. He milks "Irish" Americans dry on
fund raising trips, spouting the myths of English oppression, which
are as relevant today as stories of the wee folk. I'm a Protestant,
and when I was at University in Belfast in the 80's, I met many Irish
republicans who cheerfully admitted they loved conning "Irish"
Americans, as they were such an easy source of money for the

U2 are so much more than a band for me. Since I first heard them
in 1979, they have spoken to me thru' their music and helped me
articulate my own confusion about growing up in such a divided
country. Yes, the music is ethereal and magical, but U2 have also
been able to offer a still small voice of sanity to the few like myself
in northern Ireland who despise terrorism and murder.

Thank you for your time,

Stephen R. McBride

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