The Paul McCartney Project

Give Ireland Back To The Irish

Album This song officially appears on the Give Ireland Back To The Irish 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1972
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

“Give Ireland Back to the Irish” is a song by the British–American rock band Wings that was released as their debut single in February 1972. It was written by Paul McCartney and his wife Linda in response to the events of Bloody Sunday, on 30 January that year, when British troops in Northern Ireland shot dead thirteen civil rights protestors. Keen to voice their outrage at the killings, Wings recorded the track two days later at Abbey Road Studios in London. It was the band’s first song to include Northern Irish guitarist Henry McCullough.

“Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was banned from broadcast in the UK by the BBC and other organisations, and was overlooked by the majority radio programmers in the United States. The single peaked at number 16 on the UK Singles Chart and number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100, but topped the national chart in Ireland. Having never released an overtly political song before, McCartney was condemned by the British media for his seemingly pro-IRA stance on Northern Ireland. As with Wings’ recent album, Wild Life, the song was also maligned by many music critics. These writers found McCartney’s lyrics overly simplistic and viewed the single as an attempt by him to gain credibility for his new band on the back of a pressing political issue.

Wings performed “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” throughout their tour of English and Welsh universities in February 1972. The track first appeared on an album in 1993, when it was included as a bonus track on the CD reissue of Wild Life. Following a terrorist incident in London in 2001, McCartney agreed to omit the song from the Wingspan box set, recognising that its inclusion might be viewed as a gesture of support for the IRA’s use of violence.

Background

Following the release of his band Wings’ debut album, Wild Life, in December 1971, Paul McCartney spent Christmas and New Year in New York visiting the family of his wife and bandmate Linda. The visit also allowed McCartney to begin rebuilding his relationship with John Lennon, his former writing partner in the Beatles, after the pair had spent the year attacking each other through the music press and in their respective musical releases. The McCartneys then returned to the UK, intent on preparing to launch Wings as a live act. In January 1972, Wings began rehearsing in London with a new fifth member, Irishman Henry McCullough, on lead guitar, who joined on the recommendation of the band’s guitarist and occasional singer, Denny Laine.

On 29 January, McCartney returned to New York, where, during another meeting with Lennon, they agreed to end their public feud. The following day, McCartney wrote the song “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” in response to the news that British troops in Derry in Northern Ireland had just shot dead thirteen Civil Rights Marchers and wounded many others, as their protest march turned into a riot because of the British Army’s confrontational approach. With strong familial connections to Ireland on his late mother’s side, McCartney was appalled at Britain’s role in what became known as Bloody Sunday. According to his biographer Tom Doyle, McCartney was inspired also by being around Lennon and the vibrant and politically radical mood of Greenwich Village, where Lennon and Yoko Ono were living. McCartney later recalled: “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.”

Recording

Before leaving New York for London, McCartney arranged a session with Wings to rush-record the new song. The track was recorded on 1 February at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios with engineer Tony Clark. The band then moved to Apple Studios, where the song was mixed and possibly completed. This marked the first time that McCartney had worked in the Beatles’ Apple Studios since the group’s break-up in April 1970.

The B-side of the single, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish (Version)”, is an instrumental version of the song. McCartney used this rather than another song since, anticipating problems over the political content, he thought that if disc jockeys decided to favour the B-side to avoid the lyrics being heard, they would still have to announce the track’s title. McCartney took the rhythm section parts from the A-side and overdubbed lead guitar lines (played by himself and McCullough) and an Irish penny whistle. Seeking to emulate the low-fidelity quality of Jamaican reggae singles, where instrumental dubs were commonly used as B-sides, McCartney gave the track a muddy-sounding mix, with barely any high-end sound.

Ban

The song was immediately banned in the United Kingdom, being banned by the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and the Independent Television Authority (ITA). BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel was the only member of those organisations who spoke out in support of McCartney, saying: “The act of banning it is a much stronger political act than the contents of the record itself. It’s just one man’s opinion.” On the Radio 1 chart show Pick of the Pops, Alan Freeman had to refer to it as “a record by the group Wings”.

Paul McCartney later said of the song in the context of the Troubles in Northern Ireland:

From our point of view, it was the first time people questioned what we 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, explaining that they wouldn’t release it. He thought it was too inflammatory. 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. 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].

Wings played “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” throughout their first concert tour, which consisted of a series of unannounced shows at universities in England and Wales over 9–23 February. The BBC ban was announced while Wings were in York, where they played at Goodricke College on 10 February. Writing about the tour for the NME, Geoff Liptrot said the band’s performances were generally good, but the song “grated a little with its harsh, sing-song chorus immediately conjuring up visions of a drunk rolling along a street bellowing at the top of his voice”. When asked by a reporter from The Guardian whether the shows were fundraisers for the Irish Republican Army, McCartney declined to comment, beyond saying: “We’re simply playing for the people.” Because of McCullough’s involvement with the song, his brother Samuel was beaten up in an Irish pub, in Kilburn, an area of north-west London that was popular among Irish expatriates.

Release

The “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” single was released by Apple Records on 25 February 1972 in the United Kingdom (as Apple R 5936) and 28 February in the United States (as Apple 1847). It was Wings’ debut single release, after the cancellation of their scheduled single from Wild Life, a reggae-style cover of “Love Is Strange“. Further to McCartney’s refusal to include the Apple logo on the LP face labels for Wild Life, five green Irish shamrocks appeared on the single’s customised labels. In the US, the song lyrics were reproduced on the yellow paper sleeve enclosing the disc.

On 7 March, Wings were filmed rehearsing “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” at the McCartneys’ St John’s Wood home in London for a segment on ABC News in the United States. McCartney told the ABC reporter that he did not plan to focus on politics in his work, but that “on this one occasion I think the British government overstepped the mark and showed themselves to be more of a sort of oppressive regime than I ever believed them to be.” A 30-second television advertisement for the single was produced by Apple but never broadcast by the ITA, who cited the stipulation regarding “political controversy” in the Television Act, by which the organisation was legally bound.

“Give Ireland Back to the Irish” peaked at number 16 on the UK Singles Chart, and number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. According to author Bruce Spizer, listeners there felt alienated by McCartney’s political stance and “Airplay was so marginal that the song, for all practical purposes, was also banned by American radio.” On the other US singles charts, published by Cash Box and Record World, the single peaked at number 38 and number 36, respectively.

The single reached number 1 in Ireland and in Spain. McCartney attributed the song’s success in Spain to its popularity among Basque separatists. The A-side was included as a bonus track on the 1993 Paul McCartney Collection CD reissue of Wild Life.

Critical reception and legacy

As a political statement, the song was out of character for McCartney and attracted suspicion from contemporary reviewers. Some writers accused him of attempting to project a less wholesome image by aligning himself with British countercultural thinking, as a means of gaining credibility for his faltering career after the Beatles. Another widely held suspicion was that McCartney was attempting to impress John Lennon, who had been vocal in his support for Irish republicanism. In a review of Lennon’s 1972 album Some Time in New York City, which included two political songs about Ireland, Richard Williams of Melody Maker wrote: “how sad that the only thing in years on which he and Paul have agreed should have drawn from both their very worst work. Neither ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ nor ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ can do anything but increase the bigotry of the already ignorant.” Writing for Rough Guides in 2003, music critic Chris Ingham said of the Wings single: “The record managed to irritate everyone, not least for its naive, simplistic attitude to a complex situation … but also for its musical mediocrity. The BBC banned the record, granting it a notoriety disproportionate to its importance.”

NME critic Bob Woffinden described “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” as “self-conscious, awkward” in the mould of “Lennon’s least successful diatribes”. He added that, although Lennon would soon “rise to the bait” and “do far worse”, McCartney’s song “gave the appearance of being an exploitation single every bit as much as ‘tribute’ singles that are rushed out in the wake of the death of a star name”. Writing in Record Collector in 2001, Peter Doggett said that McCartney’s and Lennon’s “ill-fated” musical statements on Irish politics, following on from the pair’s public sparring in the music press throughout 1971, “combined to tarnish” the four ex-Beatles’ standing among music critics in the UK and so contributed to an unjustly harsh critical reception there for George Harrison’s 1973 album Living in the Material World.

Authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter describe the song’s lyrics as “clumsy (yet well-intentioned)” and comment that McCartney fully exploited the “‘hip’ cachet” resulting from the radio ban in his print advertising for the release. They view the song as an unwise choice for Wings’ first single, given the relative failure of the band’s debut album, Wild Life. When compiling the Wingspan box set in 2001, McCartney had intended to include “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”. Following a terrorist incident in London that year, however, he ceded to EMI’s request to omit the song, recognising that its inclusion might be viewed as a gesture of support for the IRA’s use of violence.

From BBC Arts & Culture – “Paul McCartney’s forgotten protest song”:

What motivated McCartney?

But Stuart Maconie, who discusses Give Ireland Back to the Irish on The People’s Songs on Radio 2, believes it was a natural response to events in Northern Ireland.

“I think, like many people, he was simply horrified by Bloody Sunday,” says Maconie. “And as a child of the huge Irish diaspora in the North West of England, he felt it even more keenly.

“I don’t believe he was trying to ‘outdo’ Lennon. I think he was utterly sincere and it was a very brave move.”

McCartney’s former bandmate John Lennon, who had Irish heritage, had been increasingly politically active and appeared at a New York protest against the British Army’s presence in Northern Ireland.

Eamonn McCann, a veteran journalist and political activist from Londonderry, believes that while McCartney probably had genuine reasons for writing this song, the ‘Irish question’ was a convenient one for musicians to associate themselves with for publicity.

“The cause of Ireland had floated in and out of the British ‘trendy left’,” says McCann. “The Irish issue was quite an easy one to get involved with. It represented a progressive line of thinking in England at the time.”

McCartney later told Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn the sense of outrage he felt about Bloody Sunday:

“From our point of view it was the first time people questioned what we 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, explaining that they wouldn’t release it.

“He thought it was too inflammatory. I told him that I felt strongly about it and they had to release it.”

Impact of Give Ireland Back to the Irish

The song was banned in the UK by the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and the Independent Television Authority. BBC DJ and Top of the Pops presenter Alan Freeman refused to mention it by name. In his Radio 1 chart countdown he referred to it only as “a song by a group called Wings”.

Despite the lack of airplay it reached number 16 in the UK charts and number 21 in the US. It was a number one in both the Republic of Ireland and, oddly, Spain.

McCartney later explained the song’s Spanish success: “I’m very proud of that. Basque separatists loved it.”

The two ‘Irish’ songs John Lennon released the same year, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Luck of the Irish, largely went unnoticed. It was McCartney who caused the storm.

Music journalist and BBC Radio Ulster presenter Stuart Bailie believes the fact it was banned actually helped.

“The ban gave it more kudos because in my opinion it was a poor song with weak lyrics,” he said.

Eamonn McCann felt the song was well received by nationalists in Derry, but is sceptical about any lasting impact.

“Nationalists were cheered by any expression of support or solidarity as it was good for morale. But it is arguably McCartney’s most banal song. You can’t compare it to classic protest songs such as Bob Dylan’s Only a Pawn in Their Game. I don’t think it changed the trajectory of events at all.”

McCartney had formed Wings with his wife Linda in 1971. One band member, guitarist Henry McCullough, was from Northern Ireland. McCullough’s brother was beaten up because of the song.

Stuart Bailie says McCullough didn’t hold Give Ireland Back to the Irish in very high regard. “I spoke to Henry about the song and he was slightly embarrassed and underwhelmed by it,” he added.

Paul McCartney in "Wingspan: Paul McCartney's Band on the Run":

Give Ireland Back to the Irish was written after Bloody Sunday. British soldiers had fired at a crowd of demonstrators and there were deaths. From our point of view, looking at it on the TV news, it was the first time people questioned what we were doing in Ireland. lt was so shocking. 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. I wrote Give Ireland Back to the Irish, we recorded it and I was promptly phoned by the chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood, explaining that they wouldn’t release it. He thought it was too inflammatory. I told him that I felt strongly about it and that they had to release it, and he said, ‘Well, it’ll be banned’. And of course it was – the BBC could not play it. But it was number one in Ireland, and in Spain for some reason. It was just on of those things you have to do in life because you believe in the cause. And protest was in the context of the times.

I knew Give Ireland Back to The Irish wasn’t an easy route, but it just seemed to me to be the time. I had to say something. All of us in Wings felt the same about it. But Henry McCullough’s brother, who lived in Northern Ireland, was beaten up because of it. They thugs found out that Henry was in Wings.

Last updated on October 29, 2018

Lyrics

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don't make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Great Britain you are tremendous
And nobody knows like me
But really what are you doin'
In the land across the sea

Tell me how would you like it
If on your way to work
You were stopped by Irish soldiers
Would you lie down do nothing
Would you give in or go berserk

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don't make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Great Britain and all the people
Say that all people must be free
Meanwhile back in Ireland
There's a man who looks like me

And he dreams of god and country
And he's feeling really bad
And he's sitting in a prison
Should he lie down do nothing
Should give in or go mad

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don't make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don't make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Officially appears on


Give Ireland Back To The Irish

7" Single • Released in 1972

3:42 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Electric guitar (?), Producer, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals, Keyboards, Producer
Denny Laine:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Henry McCullough:
Electric guitar
Denny Seiwell:
Drums
Tony Clark:
Engineer
Mark Vigars:
Assistant engineer
Glyn Johns:
Mixing

Session Recording:
Feb 01, 1972
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Feb 03, 1972
Studio:
Island Studios, London, UK


Give Ireland Back To The Irish

7" Single • Released in 1972

Studio versionB • Instrumental version


Wild Life (1993)

Official album • Released in 1993

3:46 • Studio versionR1993

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Electric guitar (?), Producer, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals, Keyboards, Producer
Denny Laine:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Henry McCullough:
Electric guitar
Denny Seiwell:
Drums
Tony Clark:
Engineer
Mark Vigars:
Assistant engineer
Glyn Johns:
Mixing
Peter Mew:
Remastering

Session Recording:
Feb 01, 1972
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Feb 03, 1972
Studio:
Island Studios, London, UK


Wild Life (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

Studio versionA

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Electric guitar (?), Producer, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals, Keyboards, Producer
Denny Laine:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Henry McCullough:
Electric guitar
Denny Seiwell:
Drums
Tony Clark:
Engineer
Mark Vigars:
Assistant engineer
Glyn Johns:
Mixing

Session Recording:
Feb 01, 1972
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Feb 03, 1972
Studio:
Island Studios, London, UK


Wild Life (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

Studio version


Wings Over Europe

Official album • Released in 2018

4:27 • LiveL1

Performed by:
Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyDenny LaineHenry McCulloughDenny Seiwell
Paul McCartney:
Producer
Alan Parsons:
Recording engineer
Alex Wharton:
Mastering
Steve Orchard:
Mixing
Jeremy Gee:
Recording engineer assistant
Graham Fleming:
Recording engineer assistant

Concert From the concert in Groningen, Netherlands on Aug 19, 1972

Bootlegs


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol. 3

Unofficial album

3:45 • Studio version


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol. 3

Unofficial album

2:27 • Studio version • Rehearsal 1

Recording:
Mar 07, 1972


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol. 3

Unofficial album

4:41 • Studio version • Rehearsal 2

Recording:
Mar 07, 1972



First Live Show

Unofficial live

3:50 • Live


Live performances

“Give Ireland Back To The Irish” has been played in 30 concerts.

Latest concerts where “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” has been played








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