This song is not a rebel song - U2's musical statements on the troubles in Northern Ireland
A very special firsthand perspective
Sunday Bloody Sunday
In the beginning, Bono started off this song in concert by informing people that "this is not a rebel song" -- coming from a bunch of young men in the south of Ireland back in the early 80's, this might have sounded particularly odd. The mood prevalent at that time was if you were Irish, you hated the British, and if you were British, you hated the Irish; this distrust and dislike can be traced back to centuries of war and feuding between these two nations that brought about the tragic events that happened in Londonderry [or Derry] back in the late 60's. The situation was as follows -
Northern Ireland consists of six counties that belong to the British mainland because the majority of the population was Protestants who wanted to remain British. The Catholics who still lived in the north part of Ireland were in the Minority; a lot of them wanted a United Ireland with no British Government interference. As the rest of the south of Ireland was considered Catholic, strong minded Protestants did not want the proposed unification, as they would become the minority and lose all the power and thusly, would put under the subjection of the Pope in Rome -- their worst nightmare. At this time, Northern Ireland was a thriving country with big Industry from ship makers and plane makers, and Protestants held all the power. This is where the main power struggle lay.
In truth, Catholics in the North did not get much of a fair deal back then -- the Protestants had all the best jobs, etc. So in 1968, there was a civil rights march held in Londonderry though the majority of these [protestors] were Catholics, there were Protestants amongst them too who though that Catholics should have more rights. As it was a massive demonstration, the police and army were called in because there was a tip that the IRA � a terrorist group who thought they could get a United Ireland through violence - would hijack the demonstration and cause some sort of trouble. Tensions were high when the march took place, and years later, investigators and citizens alike are still trying to figure out who fired the first shot - whether it was an IRA sniper taking �pot shots� at the police and army, or just some over eager trigger happy paratrooper - mayhem broke out, and the British Army went mad and killed 11 innocent people. It was the catalyst; that day is now referred to as Bloody Sunday, and the battle lines were forever drawn.
I speak of this Bloody Sunday because it is the one event that altered my life completely. I was very young, no more than six years old at the time, and though I lived 90 miles away from Derry, what happened had serious repercussions on the whole country. I remember shops getting burned and looted, people getting put out of their homes, barricades and sandbags across the roads, men in masks and balaclava's and guns. So then appeared the Protestant terrorist paramilitary groups the UVF and UDA. The British Army began patrolling our streets; then the bombs, the shootings and the killings of both Catholics and Protestants - all were victims, all were targets for terrorists on both sides of the divide.
This was the background I grew up in, and in general, the Protestants who felt they harboured many IRA Terrorists viewed the South of Ireland as hostile. So when a young Irish band started singing a song called �Sunday Bloody Sunday� in 1983, many would assume they were singing it in sympathy for the Irish Nationalists but that was not the case. In fact, during performances of the song, Bono used a white flag to show he was not taking sides, but that the song was written in sympathy about the tragedy of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
His cries of "no more" and "wipe your tears away" was something I had been feeling for a long time, and a lot of others like me who just wanted the killing and the hatred to stop, and had indeed shed many tears over it. But I never realized just how strongly U2 felt about the situation in Northern Ireland until I watched �Rattle and Hum� when he is singing the song shortly after the IRA planted a bomb in Enniskillen during a WW2 remembrance day service killing a lot of innocent people.
You got the usual condemnations from politicians, but Bono went further I think, even putting his own neck on the line by condemning the IRA in public by telling Americans not to support them because it was not some glorious cause that was being fought. I don't imagine that the IRA was too happy about that, especially coming from a fellow Irishman. When I first heard that speech in �Rattle and Hum,� I have to admit my jaw just dropped with shock at his outspokenness, but he was feeling angry and frustrated and sad, which I could relate to instantly. That�s why when he finished, it give me the overwhelming urge to just want to jump up and hug Bono; I just loved him for feeling what I had been feeling a long time. For me his words touched my heart, it was like he and the other members of U2 knew what we were suffering and understood - and wanted it to end even though they didn't even live in the North - that no country or bit of land or flag was worth taking another life.
I think it was good in the sense that it showed that there were in fact those in the South of Ireland that did sympathize with what was going on, and felt just as frustrated as those in the North. For U2 and Bono to get up there and represent the ordinary person in saying �enough is enough� was comforting for me, that there was hope, and that hearts and minds were changing and together, we could cross the divide. He probably wasn't even aware that his words would make such a tremendous difference to people like me because he was speaking of his own personal feelings at the time. But there were plenty who shared those feeling with him, and I hope one day he will not have to sing that song anymore to remind people of how this kind of hatred and bitterness must finally stop.
Please/ Staring at the Sun
The 90's brought a change in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Peace Agreement, and a ceasefire from the paramilitaries on both sides, but even with this on the table it was not easy. There were still a lot of those who felt bitter, who did not want to forgive or forget what had happened in the past; including those heads of the political scene who were to move this peace process forward, which led to a lot of squabbling and more disagreements than agreements. I guess that is what inspired Bono to write these songs, he was pleading with the politicians to let go of the past and think of the future, to let go of old mistrust and dislikes, which were leading them to the frustration of having talks about talks and not getting anywhere - really meaning that deadlines just went on and on.
October/Talk getting nowhere/November/December/Remember/Are we just starting again?
I think this verse well describes Bono's frustration, and when I watched the �Please� video on the �Best Of 1990-2000� DVD and listening in on the commentary, once more I realized how strongly Bono felt about the situation in Northern Ireland, that people refused to let go of their differences and embrace change that he shed real tears for us - at this time communities were getting torn apart by the fact that each refused to accept the other�s traditions and took great offense, which led to more violence with people getting shot or their homes getting petrol bombed.
To arm or disarm, parades, where you could walk or couldn't walk, where you could fly the British and Ulster flag or the Irish Tricolour, where you could worship and not worship seemed problems people could not solve, petty differences were blown out of proportion and manipulated by those who did not want to see peace. U2's song �Please� was trying to get to the heart of these things to tell people they were not worth fighting over.
At this point in time, I had the great pleasure of going to see U2 during the PopMart tour where they played in Belfast's Botanic Gardens - Edge singing �Suspicious Minds,� while in the background you could see the politicians Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley - were priceless moments for me, and although humourous, once more viewed what most ordinary person in Northern Ireland felt.
They performed �Please� near the end of the show; it was the first time I heard the song live, and it moved me completely. Once more Bono was showing he cared and that peace in Ireland was something he longed for. They are still working away at it today, so his plea has not fallen on deaf ears. Maybe one day we will let go of our bloody bitter past without hate and recrimination, and look forward to a peaceful future.