The Beatles: Paul McCartney’s banned protest song written for Northern Ireland

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The Beatles’ Sir Paul McCartney usually steered clear of getting involved in political goings-on. In 1972 he was working hard with his wife, Linda McCartney, on his second band, Paul McCartney and Wings. The group had just released their first album, Wild Life, but when a peaceful demonstration in Ireland ended with 26 people being shot by British soldiers, he felt he had to step up. In a tragic event now called Bloody Sunday the death of 14 people left a lasting effect on The Beatle, who himself has roots in Ireland on his mother’s side.

In an instantaneous and furious response, McCartney wrote a song to speak his mind for him.

At the time the singer was in New York with John Lennon when he saw the news and decided to write Give Ireland Back to the Irish.

McCartney was keen to make his voice heard on this matter and attempted to get his record company, EMI, to release it, but it didn’t go according to plan.

McCartney revealed years later: “I wasn’t really into protest songs – John had done that – but this time I felt that I had to write something, to use my art to protest.”

Going on to detail the thought process behind his song, McCartney revealed: “From our point of view, it was the first time people questioned what [the British] were doing in Ireland.

“It was so shocking. I wrote Give Ireland Back to the Irish, we recorded it and I was promptly phoned by the Chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood.”

Lockwood told McCartney he would not release the song under any circumstances.

The singer added: “He thought it was too inflammatory.”

McCartney said: “I told him that I felt strongly about it and they had to release it.

“He said: ‘Well it’ll be banned’, and of course it was.”

Shortly after the song’s release on February 25, 1972, Give Ireland Back to the Irish was banned from being played on the radio by the BBC.

The track was also “overlooked” by many radio programmers in the United States.

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Despite not getting much time on the radio the song hit number one in Ireland’s Singles Chart.

The song also reached number 16 on the UK Singles Charts.

McCartney later added: “I knew Give Ireland Back to the Irish wasn’t an easy route, but it just seemed to me to be the time [to say something].”

McCartney did play the song live while on tour with Wings throughout 1972.

The singer was asked by The Guardian at the time if his shows were “fundraisers for the Irish Republican Army [IRA]”.

McCartney replied: “We’re simply playing for the people,” but declined to comment further.

Years later, in 2001, McCartney agreed to omit Give Ireland Back to the Irish from Wings’ greatest hits album.

The band released Wingspan: Hits and History, a compilation album commemorating their music, but McCartney recognised its inclusion “could be viewed as support for the IRA’s use of violence”.


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