Sunday Bloody Sunday: history and analysis of U2’s anti-war song

At the end of the 60s, Northern Ireland suffered a bitter conflict aimed to achieve independence from the United Kingdom. It was not only a geographic or religious matter (the Irish were most Catholics while the English protestants), it was mainly a social issue.

The streets were occupied by British troops, armed with tanks. Among the many special laws written by London to limit the independentist forces, one in particular received strong reactions: it was called internment and it gave to plice the possibility to arrest a suspicion for an indefinite time, without any obligation to comply with procedural deadlines for the process.

There were demonstrations almost every day, until the clashes escalated.

On Sunday, January 30th, 1972, in Derry, during a (unauthorized) demonstration the paratroopers, commanded by Colonel Wilford, opened the fire against the crowd. The crowd began to disperse in an attempt to escape the bullets.

13 young protesters were killed and there were many wounded. The shooting lasted a few minutes and many were hit in the back, while they were trying to escape.

Bernard McGuigan was killed while waving a white handkerchief and trying to help Patrick Doherty, who was wounded on the ground. John Johnston was not a protester and he was killed only because he was there in that moment.

That day was a dramatic Sunday of blood and terror.

The first to dedicate a song to this dramatic event was Paul McCartney with Give Ireland Back to the Irish, released on February 25th, 1972, followed by John Lennon in June of that year, with Sunday Bloody Sunday on the album Some Time in New York City.

That Sunday Paul Hewson was eleven years old, living in the suburbs of Dublin, his father was Catholic and his mother Protestant. He was shock by the news. In his adolescence, he got in touch with many gangs on the streets, but he managed to stay out of them, growing with a sensibility against violence, injustice and oppression.

His anger channeled her into an artistic partnership with a group of friends she met at the Mount Temple School in Dublin, frequented by protestants and catholics together. On September 20th, 1976, Larry Mullen posted a message on the school board looking for young musicians in order to create a band. Paul responded to the announcement with Adam Clayton, David Howell Evans, his brother Dick Evans: the first formation of the band was ready.

A few years later, they became U2.

Ten years after the Bloody Sunday, the memory was still alive and the song Sunday Bloody Sunday was inspired by those event.

The song was first performed in public in December 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, three months before the release of the album War. It was presented to the public with these words:

“It’s called Sunday Bloody Sunday, it’s about us, Irish people. But if you don’t like it, we’ll never play it again.”

At the end of the execution, the song was welcomed with an ovation and from that moment on it was executed in almost all their concerts. As U2 said in the live recording of the album Under a Blood Red Sky, this is not a “rebel song”, but it’s the shocked reaction of a young man, in the Republic of Ireland, facing the hate and violence that divides those who should be united in the name of Christ.

The song was then the first track in the album War, released in March 1983. Below you can find the full lyrics:

I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?
‘Cause tonight, we can be as one
Tonight

Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?
‘Cause tonight, we can be as one
Tonight, tonight

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
(Tonight, tonight) Sunday, Bloody Sunday (let’s go)

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
I’ll, wipe your tears away (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
I’ll, wipe your blood shot eyes (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

The real battle just begun
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
to claim the victory Jesus won
On

Sunday Bloody Sunday, yeah
Sunday Bloody Sunday

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One comment

  1. There were no tanks on the streets of Northern Ireland and we all know the late Martin Mc Guinness and his ira scum fired the first shots at the army that Sunday.The army should be cleared of all charges and this latest witch hunt of the Crown forces should stop now before there is trouble.

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