THE BEATLES AND IRELAND

Never forget that The Beatles were, at heart, an Irish band. Everyone can see and hear that. Listen to Starkey’s half-on-the-rim, half-on-the-drumhead Mersey drumming and you hear the sound of Gaelic beat. Sing along with ‘All Together Now’, ‘Ob La Di, Ob La Da’, ‘Luck of the Irish’ or ‘I Will’ and you find yourself lost in Irish melody. The very Celtic James Paul McCartney and John O’Leannin never abandoned their Irish roots. The folk songs that heavily influenced them gave their music a magic- the mystique of Celtic origins.

Liverpool is often called ‘The Capital of Ireland’ and with the Irish comprising almost 80 per cent of its population, why not?

By Seán Mac Mathúna

“Well it was Sunday bloody Sunday
When they shot the people there
The cries of thirteen martyrs
Filled the Free Derry air
Is there any one amongst you
Dare to blame it on the kids?
Not a soldier boy was bleeding
When they nailed the coffin lids!”

In my opinion, John Lennon should be recognised as the greatest Irish singer ever. His California-based biographer Jon Wiener after all said that Lennon

“thought of himself as Irish”

The Irish roots of the Beatles has not yet been fully acknowledged, despite the fact that both Lennon and McCartney had two Irish Grandparents. Incredible then, considering how well known the Irish roots of the world’s most popular duo of songwriters – they are for some strange reason, not listed for example in ‘The Guinness Book of Irish Facts and Feats’ by Ciarán Deane.

John

John

The Beatles came from Merseyside – an area around the city of Liverpool which has the largest Irish population in England, mainly as a result of the exodus of people from Ireland during the Great Famine in the 1840’s. Early in their career, the Beatles had played in Ireland three times: in Dublin and Belfast in 1963, and once again in Belfast in 1964. It was after the split of the Beatles in 1970, that both Lennon & McCartney began releasing songs about the Irish question, all of which were all banned by the BBC. Paul McCartney wrote ‘Give Ireland Back to Irish’ which became a hit single in 1972, and Lennon wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, and ‘The Luck of The Irish’, both of which were on the album ‘Some Time In New York City’ that was also released in 1972.

Paul

Paul

On one hand ‘The Guinness Book of Irish Facts and Feats’ informs you, for example, that the Socialist anthem, ‘The Red Flag’ was written by Jim Connell from Co. Meath in Ireland, and under the heading ‘Top-selling contemporary Irish and Irish-related popular music artists’ it lists U2, Van Morrison and Bob Geldof. Under the heading ‘The London Irish’, it lists John Lydon from the Sex Pistols (whose father is a Gaelic speaker from Co. Galway), Boy George, Elvis Costello and The Pogues but nowhere is either Lennon and McCartney, or the Beatles mentioned.

Lennon, like another famous son of Ireland, Che Guevara Lynch, was more Irish than for example than President Kennedy, but l suspect that the main reason why they have not received proper recognition is because they were regarded as dangerous revolutionaries. John Lennon for example sang about and expressed outright sympathy with the Republican movement in his song ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.

George and Ringo

George and Ringo

Lennon’s grandfather, John (Jack) Lennon was born in Dublin in 1858, and like many Irish people after the Great Famine of the 1840’s, when Britain allowed over a million Irish people to die of starvation, emigrated to Liverpool to seek better prospects of employment. There Jack married an Irish woman called Mary Maguire and started a family. Sadly, their children, including Alfred, were orphaned early on and grew up in Liverpool orphanages. As his father Alfred Lennon walked out and left him at the age of 5, Lennon never knew either of his Irish grandparents or anything of his Irish roots. This is probably because he was raised by his mother’s family, the Stanleys, who were Welsh. In later years he became increasingly interested in his Irish ancestry and in 1975, John give his second son the name Seán, the Gaelic version of his own name.

George Harrison had the strongest ties to the Emerald Isle. Louise French Harrison’s (1911-1970) dad was Irish, this providing George with a rich source of Irish ancestry. George had a very interesting family tree. Louise French Harrison’s family were descendants of French knights who had settled into Ireland during the Middle Ages. Because of the influx of Franco-Irish settlers, the surname ‘French’ (formerly spelled ‘Ffrench’ until John French Sr.’s generation) was given the Franco-Irish. George, who did indeed resemble his maternal grandfather (Louise French Harrison would say in a 1965 interview in a fan club newsletter that she thought George looked like her dad) embraced his Irish heritage. People who knew the French and Harrison families personally have said that Louise French was very much a homebody who loved her family and delighted in visiting her relatives in Ireland. George’s sister, Lou, has supported this claim and in the book ‘George Harrison Living In The Material World’, readers are treated to delightful picture taken in 1955 of George, 12, Harold Sr. 46, Harold Jr., 21, Lou, 24 and Peter, 15 on a ferry. The Harrisons made numerous trips to Ireland and George was as well rooted in the Emerald Isle as he was in England.

The Irish Question

WingsHowever, while Lennon and McCartney had not focused upon their Irish roots during their years as members of the Beatles, it definitely attracted their attention after the break-up of the group. This had coincided with the emergence of a civil rights movement in the North of Ireland, which was to prove the catalyst for both Lennon and McCartney to write songs about the Irish question. What triggered this was the massacre by British troops of 14 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry in 1972, which became immediately known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. McCartney, who had just formed his new group Wings, released the hit single ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ just four weeks after Bloody Sunday on February 25th 1972. The BBC banned the song, and as a result of the controversy and censorship, Wings concerts in the UK were picketed and the brother of Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, a native of Derry, was beaten up by loyalists. Shortly after this, Lennon recorded his song about the incident, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

“Well it was Sunday bloody Sunday
When they shot the people there
The cries of thirteen martyrs
Filled the Free Derry air
s there anyone amongst you
Dare to blame it on the kids?
Not a soldier boy was bleeding
When they nailed the coffin lids!

Sunday bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday’s the day!

You claim to be majority
Well you know that it’s a lie
You’re really a minority
On this sweet emerald isle

When Stormont bans our marches
They’ve got a lot to learn
Internment is no answer
It’s those mothers’ turn to burn!

Sunday bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday’s the day!

You anglo pigs and Scotties
Sent to colonize the North
You wave your bloody Union Jack
And you know what it’s worth!

How dare you hold to ransom
A people proud and free
Keep Ireland for the Irish
Put the English back to sea!

Sunday bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday’s the day!

Well, it’s always bloody Sunday
In the concentration camps
Keep Falls Road free forever
From the bloody English hands

Repatriate to Britain
All of you who call it home
Leave Ireland to the Irish
Not for London or for Rome!

Sunday bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday’s the day! . . .”

It was during this period that Lennon began to identify himself as Irish and began to openly support both the Troops Out movement and the Civil Rights movement in the north of Ireland. For instance, in his 1974 ‘Walls and Bridges’ album, Lennon included a booklet contained a history of the Lennon name, in the form of the entry from ‘Irish Families, Their Names, Arms and Origins’ by Edward MacLysaght. The name Lennon is an anglicised form of ‘O Leannain’ which historically has been common in counties Fermanagh and Galway. The entry ends with

“No person of the name Lennon has distinguished himself in the political, military or cultural life of Ireland (or England for that matter)”

under which John wrote in his own handwriting

“Oh yeah? John Lennon!”

However, in an updated version ‘More Irish Families’ (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, Ireland, 1982), MacLysaght writes:

“LENNON: Since the 4th edition of Irish Families was published John Lennon, an outstanding member of the Beatles group, assassinated in 1980, has become well known outside Ireland not only as a talented musician but also for his connection With the peace movement.”

The FBI Files On Lennon’s Irish Political Links

John LennonIn February 2000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released files that indicated that they had investigated links between Lennon and New York-based Irish Republican activists in the 1970s. These are part of a 300-page Lennon file which the FBI had resisted releasing since his murder in December 1980. Altogether, 80 pages were released after a court settlement with Professor Jon Wiener, a California-based Lennon biographer and author of ‘Come Together: John Lennon In His Time. Wiener said that the files include “the first solid evidence” that the FBI had an interest in Lennon’s involvement in Irish issues, as prior to that he had not been aware of the FBI’s connecting Irish Republican activists to Lennon in New York. It goes without saying that both MI5 and MI6 would have also had an interest in Lennon and his political activities, and would have shared information with the FBI and the CIA in this regard. In fact, Wiener says a further 10 documents still held by the FBI were “almost definitely” compiled with the help of MI5. The FBI claims that these 10 files are “national security documents” which originated with “a foreign government” (i.e. Britain). Wiener thinks that this probably has something to do with surveillance of Lennon’s political activities in the UK as well as his arrest for possession of cannabis in 1968.

john lennon2Lennon had got involved in Irish politics before Bloody Sunday in January 1972. He supported activists protesting against the policy of internment without trial, which was launched by the British army on 9th August 1971, and resulted in 342 people being arrested without charge in brutal dawn raids that netted very few IRA members, but for example led to the detainment of several members of the civil rights movement. The net was cast so wide and recklessly that within 48 hours 116 people had been released. However, 14 were “selected” by the British army and the R.U.C. to undergo a series of “experiments” in sensory deprivation and other forms of torture. It resulted in Britain being found guilty of using torture by the European Court of Human Rights for the second time, the only country in Europe which has this distinction (the other occasion was the torture of Greek Cypriot resistance fighters in the 1960’s). Internment and the massacre at Bloody Sunday were the main reasons for many in the Nationalist community taking the decision to join the IRA and fight back. Lennon appeared at an anti-internment rally in London in August 1971, where he was photographed holding a newspaper that read: ‘Victory For The IRA Against British Imperialism!’ When asked how he reconciled his support for nonviolence with his sympathy for the IRA, Lennon stated:

“If it’s a choice between the IRA and the British Army, I’m with the IRA. But if it’s a choice between violence and non-violence, I’m with non-violence. So it’s a very delicate line.”

The FBI files also include an informer’s account of a meeting on February 6th, 1972, at the Irish Institute IN New York, just seven days after Bloody Sunday. According to the FBI informer, some of the proposals included procuring weapons for the IRA, whilst another called for the boycott of British goods. But one thing that caught the FBI’s attention was the willingness of Lennon to offer to perform at an “mass demonstration” organised by the Socialist Workers Party. The demo however, occurred sooner than expected. The next day (February 7th) in a rally in Manhattan organized by the Transit Workers Union. Lennon joked how “the police were particularly cooperative as most of them were Irish”. He then said that “The purpose of the meeting was to show solidarity with the people who are going to march tomorrow in Northern Ireland” Referring to his Irish ancestry, Lennon told the crowd

“My name is Lennon and you can guess the rest.” He added that his native Liverpool was “80% Irish.”

Then along with Ono he sang “The Luck of the Irish,” which was his second song written in reaction to Bloody Sunday.

The Luck Of The Irish

“If you have the luck of the Irish,
You’d be sorry and wish you were dead
You should have the luck of the Irish
And you’d wish you was English instead!
A thousand years of torture and hunger
Drove the people away from their land,
A land full of beauty and wonder
Was raped by the British brigands!
Goddamn!
Goddamn!

If you could keep voices like flowers
There’d be shamrock all over the world.

If you could drink dreams like the Irish streams
Then the world would be high as the mountain of morn
In the Pool they told us the story
How the English divided the land,
Of the pain, the death and the glory
And the poets of auld Eireland
If we could make chains with the morning dew
The world would be like Galway Bay

Let’s walk over rainbows like leprechauns
The world would be one big Blarney stone
Why the hell are the English there anyway?
As they kill with god on their side!
Blame it all on the kids and the IRA!
As the bastards commit genocide
Aye! Aye!
Genocide!

If you had the luck of the Irish
You should have the luck of the Irish
You’d be sorry and wish you were dead
And you’s wish you were English instead!
Yes you’d wish you was English instead!!”

At the time of the rally, Lennon was already in contact with the office of Irish Northern Aid, in New York, an organization which raised money for the families of prisoners and supports Sinn Féin. Furthermore, he assigned all the royalties from ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ to Irish Northern Aid. Although it has been claimed by the former MI5 spy David Shayler that Lennon secretly funded the IRA at the time, this was denied by Yoko Ono, who was said to be upset by newspaper reports that MI5 allegedly had “proof” that Lennon had given money to the IRA according to The Sunday Times. Whatever the controversy about Lennon’s involvement with the Republican movement and his support for Irish freedom, the fact is, he considered himself Irish and therefore should be recognised as such. As ‘The Guinness Book of Irish Facts and Feats’ points out

“Irishness is not limited to the Island of Ireland”

The Great Famine in the 1840’s forced out millions of people over the decades that followed it, including John Lennon’s own family. From these people, there are over 60 million people worldwide who consider themselves Irish by heritage (43 million of which are in the USA). Lennon and McCartney have always been thought of as Britain’s greatest songwriters and performers of the 20th century – it is a shame that Ireland has not bestowed this honour on them as well as one of Erin’s most famous sons from the Irish Diaspora.

*this article first appeared in FLAME. articles available on-line here 

FLAME- Silence is the luxury of the oppressor

That’s why we’re back to make a noise . . .

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2 thoughts on “THE BEATLES AND IRELAND

  1. LondonCelticPunks September 1, 2015 at 12:44 pm Reply

    thanks to Michael Fletcher who sent us a message pointing out that George Harrison was the most Irish member of the Beatles. much appreciated.

    http://www.independent.ie/regionals/enniscorthyguardian/sport/other-sports/rosslare-relatives-mourn-death-of-famous-cousin-beatle-georges-wexford-roots-27194406.html

  2. Maureen Ganz Heck September 9, 2015 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Interesting read. Thank you.

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