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 the artists. Here is a selection of the most significant artistic reactions to the events that took place in Derry that day, when British soldiers shot and killed 14 unarmed civilians in cold blood…
The feelings of outrage that followed the actions of the British Army on Bloody Sunday fifty years ago should not be underestimated when they opened fire and killed in cold blood fourteen unarmed citizens in the streets of Derry. A few days later, the British Embassy in Dublin was set on fire, before the eyes of a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. But this descent into state-sponsored savagery had repercussions around the world, as the bare barbarism of the British rune was made clear to all. It changed minds and hearts around the world – and artists were among the quickest to respond. What they had to say – then and later – was, in many ways, the most memorable. Courts can run out of steam and try to cover up – but musicians and songwriters have understood this from the start…
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 ban from the BBC and being ignored by many radio programmers in the United States. Additionally, the ex-Beatle has drawn a lot of heat from the British press, who have accused him of being too sympathetic to the IRA. Equally surprising was the popularity of the tune – a signature McCartney rocker with elements of a rebel anthem – in Ireland, where it charted at No. 1.
2 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by John Lennon and 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 outraged by the Derry massacre. The song also proved to be as controversial as McCartney’s composition, with Lennon receiving widespread criticism in the British press. He donated the royalties to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
3 ‘Domhnach na Fola’ from T With The Maggies
Included on folk supergroup T With The Maggies’ 2010 self-titled album, the lyrics to the haunting “Domhnach na Fola” (Irish for “Bloody Sunday”) were penned by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh in response to the report of the Saville investigates 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 folk icon Graffiti Tongue’s 1996 album, “Minds Locked Shut” looks back at the events of 1972 and lists the names of those who were killed in the Bogside. The album also contains another Troubles-themed song, “North And South Of The River”, co-written with Bono and The Edge, reworked the following year by U2 and released as a B-side to “Staring At The Sun”.
5 Freedom of the City by Brian Friel
Set in Derry in 1970, Derry playwright Brian Friel’s play focuses on a trio of protesters whose accidental presence in the Guildhall is mistaken for an “occupation”. The story then switches between the events of the day and the investigation into their deaths. Like many of Friel’s plays, The Freedom Of The City is hugely acclaimed and widely taught, particularly in Australian secondary schools.
6 Sunday by Jimmy McGovern
Scouse TV writer Jimmy McGovern has long been one of Britain’s greatest working-class life chroniclers, notably with 1996’s Hillsborough – an account of the titular 1989 football disaster – which in turn inspired Nicky Wire wrote the Manic Street Preachers track “SYMM”. (South Yorkshire mass murderer). In the mighty Sunday, McGovern turned his attention to Northern Ireland. Released 20 years ago, the film stars Christopher Eccleston and explores the events leading up to Bloody Sunday, as well as the Widgery Tribunal that followed, widely – in fact now it would be fair to say universally – considered bleaching.
7 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
Driven by Larry Mullen’s martial drums and The Edge’s jagged 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. North. Afraid of being accused of escalating tensions, Bono began introducing live performances of the track announcing, “It’s not a rebel song”. A perennial live favourite, he regularly opened gigs on the band’s last live excursion, the Joshua Tree Anniversary Tour.
8 Killing Joke by Killing Joke
There was a strong anti-Thatcherite element to much of British 80s post-punk, including the 1980 debut of Killing Joke. 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 track from the time was “Ether” by Gang Of Four, which deals with internment in Northern Ireland. Gang Of Four guitarist, the late Andy Gill, produced Killing Joke’s self-titled second album in 2003, which featured a guest appearance on drums by a certain Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
9 “The Dozen Butchers” by Thomas Kinsella
Thomas Kinsella’s 1972 poem is a satirical and angry response to Bloody Sunday and the Widgery Tribunal. Itv is considered a major work of Irish poetry and will probably go down as the imposing work of one of the most politically engaged Irish poets of the contemporary era. Thomas Kinsella died on December 22, 2021, just before the 50th anniversary of what remains widely considered the biggest scandal in The Troubles.
10 Black Sabbath ‘Sabbath Bloody Sunday’
At first glance, Black Sabbath may seem like unlikely protesters, but the proto-stoner rock effort, the opening track from the metal legends’ fifth album alluded to the events of Bloody Sunday, as guitarist Geezer explained. Butler, who was of Irish descent. descent: “The Sunday Bloody Sunday thing had just happened in Ireland, when British troops opened fire on Irish protesters… So I found the title ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, and put it sort of in the way the band felt at the time, drifting away from management, mixed in with the state Ireland was in.