How Long? How Long Must We Sing This Song?

20 Feb

On January 30, 1972, in the Bogside of Derry, tragedy struck. During the 30-year period of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, over 3,000 lives were taken as a result of the conflict between the Unionists and Republicans, Protestants and Catholics, British and Irish. 1972 was the bloodiest year due largely in part by the built up animosity between the two groups. On January 30, 1972 what became known as “Bloody Sunday” changed the lives of families forever as 26 unarmed civil rights protestors were shot by British troops. The 14 deaths and multiple injuries directly linked to the Bloody Sunday became the inspiration not only for people to fight back, but also for music.

In addition to songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney about Bloody Sunday, U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday addressed the devastating event and the pain experienced as a result. The song was not intended to be a rebel song, but an account of the troubles in Northern Ireland. U2’s drummer, Larry Mullen stated in 1983, the year of the song’s release:

“We’re into the politics of people, we’re not into politics. Like you talk about Northern Ireland, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’ people sort of think, ‘Oh, that time when 13 Catholics were shot by British soldiers’; that’s not what the song is about. That’s an incident, the most famous incident in Northern Ireland and it’s the strongest way of saying, ‘How long? How long do we have to put up with this?’ I don’t care who’s who – Catholics, Protestants, whatever. You know people are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying why? What’s the point?”

The immediate reaction for some was to pick up their riffles and fire away; however, bands like U2 took a different and inspirational approach. Sunday Bloody Sunday has had a huge impact on people across the world. Not only did it make people aware of what was going on, it also allowed people to feel sympathetic for those directly affected.


Having grown up listening to U2, I was aware of the tragedy that the song addresses. However, it wasn’t until my visit to Derry that it all became real to me. After walking through the streets of the Bogside, seeing the murals, going to the Bloody Sunday memorial, and visiting the museum, I was able to truly understand what happened on that tragic day. It is clear that the people of Derry will never forget what happened that day and songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday serve as a constant reminder. U2’s ability to take a heartbreaking event and turn it into music and inspiration is beautiful and I am so thankful to have been able to see where it all came from.


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