It was December, 1982, U2 live at Belfast’s Maysfield Leisure Centre. Their third album, War, was slated for release the following March. In the midst of an energetic set, Bono told the crowd the next song was a new one and that it was about Northern Ireland.
He was careful to point out that it was not a rebel song, and if they didn’t like it the band would never play it in Belfast again. But by the end of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the crowd had a new U2 live favorite.
To be from Dublin and title a song Sunday Bloody Sunday was asking for misinterpretation. Bloody Sunday was the name given to two of the darkest dates in Ireland’s bloody history.
One is January 30, 1972, the day British troops shot and killed thirteen people during a civil rights march in nationalist Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Bloody Sunday was also the name of another tragic day in Dublin. On November 21, 1921, the British in the form of the Regular Royal Irish Constabulary and the ruthless auxiliary the Black and Tans entered Croke Park, the headquarters for the Gaelic Athletic Association. The association often was accused of being affiliated with Republicans, and the British shot and killed twelve people. The operation was carried out in retaliation for the IRA murdering fourteen British undercover agents in their beds.
The song got U2 into trouble on both sides of the political divide. The Protestants were displeased with the seeming glorification of Bloody Sunday, which the Nationalists had been using as propaganda against the British troops. The Republicans were unhappy that the band was condemning the violence and therefore taking an anti-IRA stance.
Sunday Bloody Sunday is anti-war and is also the song that connects the first two U2 records, very much centred on personal journey and spiritual faith and the next few records, where they begin to engage with the wider world and politics.
this is one of the more Christian statements on War. There are references to the prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist, “How long must we sing this song?” This line is reprised in their version of Psalm 40 at the end of the album.
U2 also take the idea of blood and war back to Jesus victory on the cross and in the hope of the resurrection. (John 20:1-9). Connecting these acts of bloody violence across the centuries to that first Palestinian Easter was in some sense pointing to their Christian faith as an answer to the problems of the North - “to claim the victory Jesus won… on a Sunday…”
Across the decades, Sunday Bloody Sunday still stands as one of U2’s best. The song has been a constant in the band’s live set. It has been used in different ways across thirty years.
On Remembrance Sunday, November 8, 1987, the IRA exploded a bomb at the War Memorial in Enniskillen, Co., Fermanagh. It killed thirteen innocent people and is probably best remembered for one of the better stories to come out of such murderous brutality.
On the night of the bombing, U2 was giving a concert in Denver, Colorado. In the middle of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bono, emotional from the news, asked with deep anger about how brave it was to kill children and old men. “F*** the revolution” he shouted.
By the Elevation Tour of 2001 Northern Ireland had taken positive, if cautious, steps Northern Ireland towards a lasting peace with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Good Friday and Easter Sunday linked!
During the Pittsburgh concert of the Elevation tour in 2001, Bono introduced the song by telling the crowd, “If you’re Irish, you got something to sing about on this song.” It is as if there has been a change from the shame of the Irish situation to almost a pride in what had been achieved. As someone passed him an Irish flag during the song, he acknowledged, “There was a time when you couldn’t hold this flag so high.”
By the time the Elevation Tour arrived Slane Castle in Ireland the fragile peace process was again in jeopardy. During Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bono turned the crowd into a praying congregation for peace, asking them to “sing into the presence of love, sing into the presence of peace.” He then led the communal sing with “put your hands in the air, if you’re the praying kind turn this song into a prayer..”
In the most recent Songs Of Innocence Tour Sunday Bloody Sunday has again a crucial role in the script. As the band once again looked at how the Troubles effected them, or more personally their friend Andy Rowen. The song Raised By Wolves about a UVF car bomb in Dublin in 1974 was about Andy and how those Troubles touched Cedarwood Road. Sunday Bloody Sunday is Raised By Wolves companion piece.
Still effective. Still not a rebel song. Still claiming “the victory Jesus won!"