History in Song: “Zombie” by The Cranberries

My last #MusicMonday post was about U2’s 1983 song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” which was about a 1972 incident (Bloody Sunday) that occurred as part of The Troubles, a violent thirty-year conflict from 1968 to 1998, waged over the status of Northern Ireland as a territory of the UK. As The Troubles continued, more violence occurred prompting further responses from artists. The Cranberries, an Irish rock band formed in 1989, released “Zombie” in 1994 as a response to the 1993 Warrington bombings carried out by the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army–anti-British, Catholic, Irish nationalists who wanted to see a reunited Ireland).

The Warrington bombings (in Warrington, England) included two separate incidents. The first, at a gas storage facility, caused damage but no injuries. The second, in which bombs placed in trash bins exploded on Bridge Street in Warrington, killed two children and injured many others. One of the children, Johnathan Ball, was only 3 years old. The other, Tim Parry, was 12.

The IRA issued a statement acknowledging their involvement, but claiming that “Responsibility for the tragic and deeply regrettable death and injuries caused in Warrington yesterday lies squarely at the door of those in the British authorities who deliberately failed to act on precise and adequate warnings.”

A day later, an IRA spokesman said that “two precise warnings” had been given “in adequate time”, one to the Samaritans and one to Merseyside Police. He added: “You don’t provide warnings if it is your intention to kill.” However, British authorities and police claimed there was only 1 warning given and it was not specific enough or given early enough for successful preventative action to be taken.

The bombings and the deaths of the two children sparked public outrage, media attention, and peace movements. However, some argued that the outrage was one sided as groups opposite the IRA such as the Ulster Defence Association, a Protestant loyalist group, carried out several murders of Catholic citizens, including a 17-year-old, in the days after the bombings that were not covered in the media.

The Cranberries’ “Zombie” was one reaction in protest of the bombings and the death of the two children.

“This song’s our cry against man’s inhumanity to man; and man’s inhumanity to child.” – Dolores O’Riordan.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan wrote “Zombie” alone after seeing the news and the reaction of one of the mothers on television.

She explained her response in an interview: “I felt so sad for her, that she’d carried him for nine months, been through all the morning sickness, the whole thing and some… prick, some airhead who thought he was making a point, did that.”

Being Irish herself, O’Riordan was upset that the IRA claimed to have carried out the bombing in the name of a unified Ireland. “The IRA are not me. I’m not the IRA,” she said. “The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not. When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland, it’s some idiots living in the past.”

O’Riordan very much saw the issue the IRA was fighting for (reunification of Ireland) as something of the past and references this repeatedly throughout the song. However, The Troubles would continue for 4 more years after the song’s release. She was accused of being naive at the time the song was released and of writing about a conflict she didn’t fully understand. I think the decades-long conflict with roots hundreds of years in history is much more complicated than can be captured in one song; however, her main goal in writing the song was to lament the death of two innocent children in a struggle that was not their own. This she does beautifully, hauntingly well in a very visceral, powerful song.

She was also accused of taking sides against the IRA when there was violence on both sides; however, the song lyrically really only sides with innocent people caught in others’ struggles.

Complete lyrics below with notes:

Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaking?
But, you see it’s not me
It’s not my family

In your head, in your head
They are fighting
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head in your head they are crying
In your head
In your head [These lines indicate that O’Riordan sees the conflict as being reignited by people living in the past with the images of earlier conflicts in their head]

Zombie, zombie, zombie, ei, ei [the reference to zombies is O’Riordan’s way of saying that the conflict is something of the past, an issue dead and buried that has been brought back up]
What’s in your head?
In your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie ei, ei, ei, oh do do do do do do do do

Another mother’s breaking
Heart is taking over
When the violence causes silence
We must be mistaken
It’s the same old thing since 1916 [1916 was the year of the Easter Rising, the first armed action of the Irish Revolutionary period, it was carried out by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland.]
In your head, in your head
They’re still fighting
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head, in your head they are dying
In your head
In your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie, ei, ei
What’s in your head?
In your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie ei, ei, ei, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh ei ei oh

Quotes from O’Riordan about the song’s meaning taken from: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-42702781 

Quotes from IRA statement after bombings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warrington_bomb_attacks


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