- 30 Jan 22
So much has been said and written about the appalling, State-led attack on the people of Derry that happened on Bloody Sunday, fifty years ago today. But sometimes, the most visceral and memorable words come from artists. Here is a selection of the most important artistic reactions to the events which took place in Derry that day, when British soldiers shot and killed 14 unarmed civilians in cold blood...
There can be no underestimating the feelings of outrage that followed the actions of the British Army on Bloody Sunday, fifty years ago, when they opened fire and killed fourteen unarmed citizens in cold blood on the streets of Derry. A few days later, the British embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground, with a crowd of hundreds of thousands watching.
But that descent into State-sponsored savagery by the Paratroop Regiment of the British Army had reverberations all across the world, as the naked barbarism of British rule was made clear for all to see. It changed minds and hearts in Europe, America, Asia and Africa alike – and artists were among the quickest to respond. What they had to say – then and later – was, in many ways, the most memorable key back into the past. Tribunals might huff and puff and attempt to cover up – but musicians and songwriters got it right from the word go...
1 ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ by Paul McCartney & Wings
Unsurprisingly, Paul McCartney’s impassioned response to Bloody Sunday proved hugely controversial, with the song receiving a BBC ban and being overlooked by many Stateside radio programmers. In addition, the ex-Beatle took plenty of heat from the UK press, who accused of him being too sympathetic to the IRA. Equally unsurprising was the popularity of the tune – a characteristic McCartney rocker with elements of a rebel anthem – in Ireland, where it as a No.1 hit.
2 ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Co-produced by Phil Spector, this track was one of two songs on the 1972 album Some Time In New York City to address the Troubles, the other being ‘The Luck Of The Irish’. Like fellow ex-Beatle McCartney, Lennon was of Irish descent – and was outraged by the massacre in Derry. The song proved as controversial as McCartney’s composition, with Lennon receiving plenty of criticism in the UK press. He donated the royalties to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
3 ‘Domhnach na Fola’ by T With The Maggies
Included on folk supergroup T With The Maggies’ self-titled 2010 album, the lyrics for the haunting ‘Domhnach na Fola’ (Irish for ‘Bloody Sunday’) were written by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh as a response to the report of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Published in June 2010, its findings prompted then-Prime Minister David Cameron to finally issue an apology on behalf of the UK government.
4 ‘Minds Locked Shut’ by Christy Moore
Released on the folk icon’s 1996 album Graffiti Tongue, ‘Minds Locked Shut’ reflects on the events of 1972 and lists the name of those killed on the Bogside. The album also contains another Troubles-themed song, ‘North And South Of The River’, a co-write with Bono and The Edge, reworked the following year by U2 and released as a b-side to ‘Staring At The Sun’.
5 The Freedom Of The City by Brian Friel
Set in Derry in 1970, Derry playwright Brian Friel’s play focuses on a trio of protestors whose accidental presence in the Guildhall is mistaken as an “occupation”. The narrative then switches between the events of the day and the inquiry into their deaths. Like many of Friel’s plays, The Freedom Of The City is hugely acclaimed and widely taught, in particular in Australian secondary schools.
6 Sunday by Jimmy McGovern
Scouse TV writer Jimmy McGovern has long been one of the foremost chroniclers of British working class lives, most notably with 1996’s Hillsborough – an account of the titular 1989 football disaster – which in turn inspired Nicky Wire to pen the Manic Street Preachers track ‘SYMM’ (South Yorkshire Mass Murderer). In the powerful Sunday, McGovern turned his attention to Northern Ireland. Aired 20 years ago, the film stars Christopher Eccleston and explores the events leading up to Bloody Sunday, as well as the subsequent Widgery Tribunal, widely – indeed now it would be fair to say universally – regarded as a whitewash.
7 ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by U2
Driven by Larry Mullen’s martial drumming and The Edge’s serrated guitar, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ – featured on U2’s 1983 album War – was an expression of horror at the downward spiral of violence in Northern Ireland. Fearful of being accused of escalating tensions, Bono took to introducing live performances of the track by announcing, “This is not a rebel song”. A perennial live favourite, it regularly opened concerts on the band’s most recent live excursion, the Joshua Tree anniversary tour.
8 Killing Joke by Killing Joke
There was a strong anti-Thatcherite element to much ’80s UK post-punk music, including Killing Joke’s 1980 debut. The monochrome cover shows Derry rioters trying to escape CS gas released by the British army, months before the events of Bloody Sunday. Another notable tune of the era was Gang Of Four’s ‘Ether’, which addresses internment in Northern Ireland. Gang Of Four’s guitarist, the late Andy Gill, produced Killing Joke’s second self-titled album in 2003, which featured a guest appearance on drums from one Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
9 ‘Butcher’s Dozen’ by Thomas Kinsella
Thomas Kinsella’s 1972 poem is a satirical and angry response to Bloody Sunday and the Widgery Tribunal. It is regarded as a major Irish poetic work, and will likely stand as the towering contribution from one of the most politically engaged Irish poets of the contemporary era. Thomas Kinsella died on 22 December 2021, just short of the 50th Anniversary of what remains widely considered to be the greatest single outrage of the Troubles.
10 ‘Sabbath Bloody Sunday’ by Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath might, on the face of it, seem like unlikely protestors, but the proto-stoner rock effort, the opening track on the metal legends’ fifth album, alluded to the events of Bloody Sunday, as explained by guitarist Geezer Butler, who was of Irish descent: “The Sunday Bloody Sunday thing had just happened in Ireland, when the British troops opened fire on the Irish demonstrators… So I came up with the title 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', and sort of put it in how the band was feeling at the time, getting away from management, mixed with the state Ireland was in.”