Bloody Sunday: When Johnny O’Lennain and Paul McCartney Got their Irish Up

Mar 16, 2016 | 5376 Views | 5 Comments

In February 1972, Paul McCartney released a single that finally put him in the same league of controversy that his former Beatles bandmate John Lennon had long inhabited. That was the month Paul released his single, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” It was his response to Bloody Sunday, a horrific event in which British soldiers shot and killed 26 unarmed civil-rights protesters and bystanders who were taking part in a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march on January 30, 1972.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 3.46.07 PMPaul’s record company EMI reluctantly agreed to let him and his band Wings record and release the protest song, but warned it would be banned. Which, of course, it was — by the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and the U.K.’s Independent Television Authority. But despite its lack of airplay it managed to chart – reaching the #1 spot in Ireland and Spain, #16 in the U.K., and #21 in the U.S. Like John and Yoko, whose “Two Virgins” album was banned for full frontal nudity on its cover, Paul now had his own censored piece of work, thus qualifying him for membership in the rock-n-roll rabble-rousers society (at least for a short time).

Most people aren’t aware that John had also recorded two songs in response to Britain’s brutal treatment of Ireland: “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Luck of the Irish,” both featured on his June 1972 LP “Some Time in New York City.”

John said he was inspired to write “The Luck of the Irish” after taking part in a 1971 London protest march in support of Ireland. Said John, “I’m a quarter Irish or half Irish or something, and long, long before the trouble started, I told Yoko that’s where we’re going to retire, and I took her to Ireland. We went around Ireland a bit and we stayed in Ireland and we had a sort of second honeymoon there. So I was completely involved in Ireland.”

Many critics lauded John’s empathetic song supporting the Emerald Isle – in the ‘Pool they told us the story / how the English divided the land / of the pain and the death and the glory / and the poets of old Ireland – but bemoaned Yoko’s contribution to the lyrics, which included mentions of shamrocks, rainbows and leprechauns, and a hope for the “world [to] be one big Blarney stone.”

john-ireland-to-irishIn response to Bloody Sunday, John participated in a protest outside the New York office of Britain’s national airline, BOAC. Soon after, he wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Commenting on his motivation to pen the song, he said: “Most other people express themselves by shouting or playing football at the weekend. But me, here I am in New York and I hear about the 13 [sic] people shot dead in Ireland, and I react immediately. And being what I am, I react in four-to-the-bar with a guitar break in the middle.”

Interestingly, John recorded his song during the same month that Paul recorded “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” But Paul beat John to the punch, releasing his single four months before Lennon’s song appeared on his “Some Time in New York City” album. The two were still in a period of backbiting and competition following the Beatles’ 1970 breakup, so John no doubt got his Irish up over Paul’s single, which was more timely and garnered much attention.

John’s original family surname was O’Lennain, the Gaelic word for love. But unlike most people who boast of even the most minuscule amount of Irish blood flowing through their veins, John rarely made a great deal of fanfare about his roots.

For the record, Paul is three-quarters Irish and George Harrison was one-quarter Irish. Poor Ringo hasn’t a drop of Irish blood, but we love him all the same.

Here’s John’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”:

And “The Luck of the Irish,” minus Yoko’s singing:

And Paul’s “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”:

 © Dana Spiardi, March 17, 2013





  1. Dave says:

    March 19th, 2013 at 3:24 pm (#)

    That’s a lot of Irish for a band that England declared ownership of. Good for Paul. Lennon Lovers were way too hard on Paul back in the day. There”s two sides to every story, in this case, four. The Beatles were so much greater than any one of their parts.

  2. Steve Seddon says:

    March 20th, 2013 at 5:30 pm (#)

    Was not Paul’s next single Mary Had a Little Lamb (in response to being banned)?
    Nice to find your blog.

  3. Rick Fitzgibbon says:

    April 2nd, 2013 at 2:57 pm (#)

    Long after St Patrick’s Day we watched your slideshows and listened to the music. The Irish have suffered much at the hands of their oppressors, and based on my visit a few years ago, there is still a noticeable undercurrent of resentment. But the Irish are resilient and they do survive. And the Emerald Isle is a spectacular place to visit on account of its beauty and especially because of its people. Thank you for this tribute.

  4. Jan says:

    March 17th, 2015 at 4:43 pm (#)

    Wow. Great article, Dan. I didn’t know John and Paul had such strong feelings about Ireland. I like “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and “The Luck of the Irish.” I always learn some fascinating facts from your blog. Thank you!

  5. Cheryl Kubelick says:

    March 17th, 2017 at 1:14 pm (#)

    Thanks for redux. Love it. What genius…the John, Paul and Dana.

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