History in Song: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2

u2“I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. How long, how long must we sing this song? How long, how long?”

Irish band U2 has written many songs about civil and human rights with anti-war messages and calls for peace. Their song Sunday, Bloody Sunday is one of their best known songs that addresses these topics. Specifically, the song references Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, when British soldiers shot unarmed protesters who were marching against Operation Demetrius and the internment of Irish nationalists.

The event was part of a larger period referred to as the Troubles, a decades long struggle between Northern Ireland and Britain and between those who wanted a united Ireland and those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. The conflict was also sectarian, in that most Irish were Catholic and most British were Protestant. Irish Catholics often faced discrimination under British rule.

The Troubles was a long and complicated period of time, which also led to the formation of the Irish Republican Army, which has caused a great deal of violence as well. In fact, Bloody Sunday led to a surge in recruitment for the IRA because it increased hostility from Catholic and Irish against the British Army.

On Bloody Sunday, 28 unarmed civilians were shot and 14 died. Many were shot while fleeing or trying to help wounded. The British soldiers claimed that they had shot at gunmen and people throwing bombs and the original tribunal cleared the soldiers, accepting that premise. However, a later investigation, ordered in 1998, determined that all protesters had been unarmed and that the British soldiers’ actions were unjustified. It also found that the soldiers had lied in order to cover what happened.

U2’s members are Irish and the band formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1976 in the midst of the Troubles. They released Sunday, Bloody Sunday in 1983, 11 years after Bloody Sunday; however, the Troubles were still going on with violence and political action on both sides. The Irish National Liberation Army bombed a night club popular with off-duty British soldiers in 1982, killing 17.

While lamenting the violence and actions of the British on Bloody Sunday, U2’s song emphasized that Irish violence was not the answer and encouraged peace on both sides. The song also uses imagery of the effects of violence while also referencing Easter Sunday and religious imagery of Jesus and the resurrection. The religious imagery is meant to evoke Easter Sunday, celebrated by both Catholics and Protestants and call for unity.

Music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4vblG6BVQ

Full lyrics:

I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?
‘Cause tonight, we can be as one
Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call [This line means he won’t join the violent IRA movement because it isn’t an answer to the death and violence]
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Sunday, Bloody Sunday (alright)
And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won [this line also indicates that there are no winners when there is violence and death on both sides]
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?
‘Cause tonight, we can be as one
Tonight, tonight
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
(Tonight, tonight) Sunday, Bloody Sunday (let’s go)
Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
I’ll, wipe your tears away (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
I’ll, wipe your blood shot eyes (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die
the real battle just begun
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday) to claim the victory Jesus won
Sunday Bloody Sunday, yeah
Sunday Bloody Sunday

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