Authored byStuart BailieBroadcaster and writer

Sounds of War to Songs of Innocence

U2 have long provided a running commentary on Northern Ireland’s political situation. This has coloured some of their most famous songs and has been reflected in a series of remarkable events and gestures.

Bono grew up on the north side of Dublin, his mother was a Protestant, his father a Catholic. This dual identity helps explain his approach to the Troubles of Northern Ireland and the viewpoints expressed throughout U2's career.

1982

Sunday Bloody Sunday

sunday bloody sunday

Anton Corbijn's striking work became a long-running feature of U2's aesthetic (Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1983).

Sunday Bloody Sunday alludes to events in Londonderry on 30 January 1972 when British Paratroopers shot 26 civilians at a civil rights march.

The song was first played in Belfast at the Maysfield Leisure Centre on 20 December 1982. This was two months ahead of the War album, with its themes of martial strife. Before this sensitive moment, Bono announced, "We're going to do a song for you now. If you don't like it, we'll never play it again.” Accounts differ about how many walk-outs there were, but from what I have heard they were relatively few and the song survived to become a mainstay in their live set.

BBC History: Bloody Sunday

I can't believe the news today

U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday

1987

The Remembrance Day bombing

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Bono addresses the crowd in Denver following the Remembrance Day bombing. Rattle and Hum (1988).

With Sunday Bloody Sunday many thought U2 sympathetic to the Republican cause but performances often began with the phrase “this is not a rebel song”.

The lyrics insist that he will not “heed the battle call” and Bono took to waving a white flag during performances. The Rattle And Hum film of 1988 captures an emotional performance in Denver on 8 November 1987. Earlier that day an IRA bomb had killed 11 at The Cenotaph in Enniskillen. During the performance of Sunday Bloody Sunday Bono addressed the crowd with a heartfelt call against violence, exclaiming, “**** the Revolution”

What turns a civilian into a paramilitary?The IRA: From conflict to ceasefire

And the battle's just begun. There's many lost, but tell me who has won?

U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday

1997

North and South

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Bono discusses what is needed to move Northern Ireland towards peace. Hot Press awards (1998)

The song North and South of the River was a co-write between Bono, Edge and Irish folk legend Christy Moore.

Christy’s version was released as a single in 1995, with his friends from U2 on backing vocals. The U2 version appeared as the B side to the Staring At The Sun single in 1997. The lyric is about barriers to reconciliation and U2 performed the song during a tribute to the victims of the Omagh bombing in 1998. Bono said: "The only grain of hope that you can possibly glean from this terror is that this has to be the end of it.”

History of the Omagh bombing

Love was not lost, love will have its day

North and South of the River, Christy Moore and U2

1997

Please

U2_Please

Please was the fourth single from the 1997 Pop album (Please, single cover, 1997).

U2's Please featured on the 1997 Pop album and was released as a single in October of that year.

The record sleeve was a homage to Andy Warhol’s celebrity screenprints, but in this case the figures were politicians from Northern Ireland: Gerry Adams, David Trimble, Ian Paisley and John Hume. The song itself alluded to the painful passage of the peace process and the difficulty the participants had with overcoming their own histories. Bono called the song “a mad prayer.”

Please... please... please get up off your knees

U2, Please

1998

The 'Yes' concert

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Bono speaking on the day of the 'Yes' campaign concert in Belfast (BBC, 1998).

On 18 May 1998, U2 played with the band Ash at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

This was a hastily convened concert to support the ‘Yes’ vote in the Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. The vote had been faltering due to adverse publicity, but the Thursday concert found Bono onstage, managing the first public handshake between the SDLP leader John Hume and his Unionist counterpart David Trimble. According to SDLP sources the feel-good­­­ factor from this gig swung the ‘Yes’ vote by 2%, a critical achievement in the peace process.

BBC History: The Good Friday Agreement

To vote no is to play into the hands of the extremists that have had their day

Bono

2014

Raised by Wolves

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Ian Smith reports on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (BBC News, 1974).

On the 17 May 1974 the Ulster Volunteer Force set off a series of car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan.

Bono missed the bomb on Talbot Street when he decided not to pay his regular visit to Golden Discs: "Any other Friday I would have been at this record shop… but I cycled to school that day." His friend Andy Rowen witnessed it along with his father, who helped with the aftermath. The 2014 song Raised by Wolves is written from Andy’s perspective and mentions the number plate of the car that carried the bomb.

BBC News: Ireland's unsolved bomb massacre 40 years on

The worst things in the world are justified by belief

U2, Raised by Wolves

Late 2014-2015

Songs of Innocence

Getty

U2 Justice for the Forgotten 1

U2, here performing in Spain, have made the campaign of Justice for the Forgotten a worldwide issue.

Raised by Wolves is now an emotional feature of the Innocence and Experience tour, book-ended by Sunday Bloody Sunday and an excerpt from Psalm 23.

U2 have used their Innocence and Experience tour to highlight Justice for the Forgotten, the campaign to deliver justice for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As they return to play Belfast the inclusion of Raised by Wolves in the setlist has led to calls that U2’s political stance is “one-sided”. I would suggest that an objective review of U2’s music and their connections to Northern Ireland clearly shows otherwise.

BBC News: Belfast must recover spirit of optimism