During my time in Ireland last month, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my generation’s greatest songwriters and musicians, John Lennon. Of course, while most of the world associates Lennon, and all the Beatles for that matter, with England, specifically the working-class town of Liverpool, the fact is Lennon did have some ties to Ireland.
Some historians claim that Lennon’s paternal grandfather was actually born in Dublin in the mid-19th century before moving to Liverpool as a young man and anglicizing the name to “Lennon” from the Irish spelling “O Leannain.”
While for years having little to say about Ireland, following the dissolution of the Beatles in 1970 and, of course, before his assassination in 1980 by Mark David Chapman, Lennon spoke often of his desire for the home of his birth, England, to leave Ireland alone.
His support became well known. He favored an independent Ireland, and his revulsion was well known for the violence that has endured for hundreds of years, as a result of Britain’s control of six counties in Northern Ireland and the mostly Protestant descendents of colonial Britain called the unionists, who have conflicted so often and so bloodily with the largely Catholic nationalists who’ve always desired a united Ireland.
Lennon’s feelings were punctuated in 1972 by the release of the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” which featured lyrics that made crystal clear Lennon’s contempt for the British paratroopers that shot 28 unarmed peaceful protesters demonstrating for a united Ireland, killing 13 on the spot and another that died weeks later in the Northern Ireland city of Derry on Sunday, January 30, 1972.
Not mincing his lyrical words, Lennon wrote:
You Anglo pigs and Scotties
Sent to colonize the North
You wave your bloody Union Jack
And you know what it’s worth
How dare you hold to ransom,
A people proud and free,
Keep Ireland for the Irish!
Put England back to sea.
Lennon never lived long enough to see another attempt to end the violence between the paramilitary unionists and the nationalists’ Irish Republican Army in what is known as the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998, more than 25 years after the Bloody Sunday of which he sang.
When Lady Jane and I were in Derry, or Londonderry to many who are unionists, the beautiful and clean city off the banks of the River Foyle, an excellent local guide spoke both of Bloody Sunday and the entire historical scope of the English-Irish conflict as we walked atop the path along the city walls built in the 1600s in the city that remains one of the world’s best preserved examples of the walled cities from so long ago, when men used primitive weaponry to kill one another.
He told us that the violence in Ireland, while not as prevalent as it was in the period between 1969 and 1998 when there were 10,000 bomb attacks in Northern Ireland alone, still exists. Of course, it’s a dispute over land and a people’s right to own their own turf, one that started after the Norman invasion of Northern Ireland in the 12th century, but it’s also a dispute that has crossed over into a religious realm as well.
In both Dublin to the south and Belfast to the north, Jane and I saw the evidence of the bloodshed between the two groups, including plaques memorializing those who’d lost their lives in a seemingly ageless dispute. And, we stood in the lobby of the Europa Hotel in Belfast City Center, a hotel that has as its legacy 56 IRA bombings over the last three decades of the 20th century, earning it a reputation as the most-bombed hotel in the world. The bombings were so frequent that, because of the boarded-up, blown-out windows that became daily reminders of the violent dispute, it was often called the Hardboard Hotel.
Following our departure for home from the Dublin Airport and on to Toronto for a connector flight to Columbus and the drive back to Mercer County to deposit Jane on her front door step, my Sirius radio filled the gaps between our spoken words. We were both tired on the last weary, jet-lag-inducing leg of our 4,000-plus mile journey. However, our late-night reverie was broken while driving a ribbon of road known as Clover Four between the fields that will soon spring to life hopefully, with a bountiful crop. They are farm fields Jane has known since her Mercer County birth in her favorite part of the world because it’s home, a part that has known only tranquility save for the spirited games between rival schools on Friday nights. The song that came on was John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
As we listened to the beautiful piano chords and the haunting lyrics where Lennon dreamed of a peaceful world, we spoke of what historians already have ascertained, which is that religion has been the cause of more conflict throughout the world than perhaps any other reason.
Hearing those Lennon lyrics, “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people living in peace,” I couldn’t help but wonder whether the troubadour whose grandfather, many historians believe, began his life in the capital city of Dublin in the Irish Republic as an O Leannain, just may have been thinking about the Ireland about which we learned while on my tour when writing his lyrics.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.