Give Ireland Back to the Irish

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"Give Ireland Back to the Irish"
Wings - Give Ireland Back to the Irish.jpg
Single by Wings
B-side"Give Ireland Back to the Irish (Version)"
Released25 February 1972
Format7-inch single
Recorded1 February 1972
StudioAbbey Road Studios, London
Songwriter(s)Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Producer(s)Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Wings singles chronology
"Give Ireland Back to the Irish"
"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

"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 of 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.[1] As with Wings' recent album, Wild Life, the song was also maligned by many music critics.[2][3] 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. On the DVD in the 2018 remastered deluxe edition of Wild Life, there was footage of a rehearsal at McCartney's home and a rehearsal at the ICA in London for Wings 1972 University Tour. 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 and inspiration[edit]

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,[4] after the pair had spent the year attacking each other through the music press and in their respective musical releases.[5][6] 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,[7] who joined on the recommendation of the band's guitarist and occasional singer, Denny Laine.[8][9]

On 29 January, McCartney returned to New York,[10] where, during another meeting with Lennon, they agreed to end their public feud.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14][15] 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.[13] 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."[16]


Before leaving New York for London, McCartney arranged a session with Wings to rush-record "Give Ireland Back to the Irish".[17] The band agreed to release the song as a single, although author Howard Sounes suggests that McCullough, as an Ulster Protestant, may have had his misgivings.[14] 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.[18] This marked the first time that McCartney had worked in the Beatles' Apple Studios since the group's break-up in April 1970.[19][nb 1]

The B-side of the single, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish (Version)", is an instrumental version of the song.[23][24] 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.[23] McCartney took the rhythm section parts from the A-side[19] and overdubbed lead guitar lines (played by himself and McCullough) and an Irish penny whistle.[23] Seeking to emulate the low-fidelity quality of Jamaican reggae singles, where instrumental dubs were commonly used as B-sides,[23] McCartney gave the track a muddy-sounding mix, with barely any high-end sound.[19]


The song was immediately banned in the United Kingdom, being banned by the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and the Independent Television Authority (ITA).[25] 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."[25]

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].[26]

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.[27][28] The BBC ban was announced while Wings were in York,[29] where they played at Goodricke College on 10 February.[30] 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".[31] 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."[29][nb 2] Because of McCullough's involvement with the song, his brother Samuel was beaten up in an Irish pub,[32] in Kilburn, an area of north-west London that was popular among Irish expatriates.[33]


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).[34][35] It was Wings' debut single release, after the cancellation of their scheduled single from Wild Life, a reggae-style cover of "Love Is Strange".[36] Further to McCartney's refusal to include the Apple logo on the LP face labels for Wild Life,[37] five green Irish shamrocks appeared on the single's customised labels.[38][nb 3] In the US, the song lyrics were reproduced on the yellow paper sleeve enclosing the disc.[23]

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.[40][nb 4] 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."[14][33] 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.[34]

"Give Ireland Back to the Irish" peaked at number 16 on the UK Singles Chart,[41] and number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.[42] 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."[43] On the other US singles charts, published by Cash Box and Record World, the single peaked at number 38 and number 36, respectively.[43][44][nb 5]

The single reached number 1 in Ireland and in Spain. McCartney attributed the song's success in Spain to its popularity among Basque separatists.[47] The A-side was included as a bonus track on the 1993 Paul McCartney Collection CD reissue of Wild Life.[48]

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

As a political statement, the song was out of character for McCartney[49][50] 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,[51] as a means of gaining credibility for his faltering career after the Beatles.[47] Another widely held suspicion was that McCartney was attempting to impress John Lennon, who had been vocal in his support for Irish republicanism.[52][53] 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."[54] 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."[55]

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".[52] 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.[56]

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.[19] 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.[16]



Chart (1972) Peak
Australian Go-Set National Top 40[57] 18
Canadian RPM Top 100[58] 46
Irish Singles Chart[59] 1
Japanese Oricon Singles Chart 31
Spanish Singles Chart 1
UK Singles Chart[60] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[61] 21
US Cash Box Top 100[44] 38
US Record World Singles Chart[44] 36


  1. ^ McCartney continued to have differences with his three former bandmates regarding the Beatles' Apple record label, to which he was still reluctantly signed as a recording artist.[20] Despite this, George Harrison, when attending the launch of the refurbished studios in September 1971, had expressed the hope that McCartney would use the facility,[21] given that "We all own the business, and it's doing well."[22]
  2. ^ With regard to this exchange, Doyle writes: "The fact that [McCartney's] reply was noncommittal shows the strength of feeling in the wake of Bloody Sunday: the idea of passing around the collection hat for the IRA – which only months later intensified its terrorist bombing campaign – was not yet considered taboo."[29]
  3. ^ According to Linda, during their meeting in January 1972, Lennon had assured McCartney that he would be free to leave the label "by March".[6] In July that year, when he and Wings were still no closer to achieving this aim, McCartney complained that Lennon's support of "the people" and the Rock Liberation Front was hypocritical.[39]
  4. ^ A portion of this footage later appeared in David Frost's 1975 ABC special A Salute to the Beatles.[40]
  5. ^ On the other UK charts, the song peaked at number 18 in Melody Maker[45] and number 13 in the NME.[46]


  1. ^ Sounes 2010, pp. 294, 296.
  2. ^ Ingham 2003, pp. 127–28.
  3. ^ McGee 2003, p. 26.
  4. ^ Badman 2001, pp. 59, 62.
  5. ^ Rodriguez 2010, pp. 92, 399–401, 405–06.
  6. ^ a b Doggett 2011, p. 185.
  7. ^ Doyle 2013, p. 51.
  8. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 293.
  9. ^ McGee 2003, pp. 23, 159.
  10. ^ Badman 2001, p. 62.
  11. ^ Doyle 2013, pp. 53–54.
  12. ^ Benitez 2010, pp. 41–42.
  13. ^ a b Doyle 2013, p. 54.
  14. ^ a b c Sounes 2010, p. 294.
  15. ^ McGee 2003, p. 23.
  16. ^ a b Benitez 2010, p. 42.
  17. ^ Perasi 2013, p. 75.
  18. ^ Perasi 2013, pp. 75–77.
  19. ^ a b c d Madinger & Easter 2000, p. 166.
  20. ^ Doggett 2011, pp. 183–84.
  21. ^ Badman 2001, p. 50.
  22. ^ Halsall, John (16 October 1971). "George Harrison Describes His Struggle to Help the Refugees in Asia – and Toasts His New Studio". NME. p. 6.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Spizer 2005, p. 146.
  24. ^ Perasi 2013, p. 76.
  25. ^ a b Doyle 2013, p. 62.
  26. ^ Lewisohn, Mark. Wingspan. Little Brown, 2002. ISBN 0-316-86032-8
  27. ^ Badman 2001, pp. 64–65.
  28. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000, pp. 166–67.
  29. ^ a b c Doyle 2013, p. 59.
  30. ^ Badman 2001, p. 65.
  31. ^ Hunt, Chris (ed.) (2005). NME Originals: Beatles – The Solo Years 1970–1980. London: IPC Ignite!. p. 58.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  32. ^ McGee 2003, p. 159.
  33. ^ a b Doyle 2013, p. 55.
  34. ^ a b Badman 2001, p. 66.
  35. ^ Castleman & Podrazik 1976, pp. 112, 306.
  36. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000, pp. 163, 166.
  37. ^ Doggett 2011, p. 184.
  38. ^ Spizer 2005, pp. 143, 146.
  39. ^ Doggett 2011, p. 195.
  40. ^ a b Madinger & Easter 2000, p. 168.
  41. ^ "Official Charts: Paul McCartney". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  42. ^ "Paul McCartney singles". allmusic. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
  43. ^ a b Spizer 2005, p. 145.
  44. ^ a b c McGee 2003, p. 244.
  45. ^ Castleman & Podrazik 1976, p. 341.
  46. ^ McGee 2003, pp. 239, 244.
  47. ^ a b Crutchley, Peter (7 August 2013). "Give Ireland Back to the Irish: Paul McCartney's forgotten protest song". BBC Arts. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  48. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000, p. 608.
  49. ^ Clayson 2003, p. 136.
  50. ^ Rodriguez 2010, pp. 92, 372.
  51. ^ Schaffner 1978, p. 152.
  52. ^ a b Woffinden 1981, p. 64.
  53. ^ Doggett 2011, p. 187.
  54. ^ Williams, Richard (7 October 1972). "John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band: Some Time In New York City/Live Jam (Apple)". Melody Maker. p. 25. Available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  55. ^ Ingham 2003, p. 128.
  56. ^ Doggett, Peter (April 2001). "The Apple Years 1968–1975". Record Collector. p. 38.
  57. ^ "Go-Set Australian Charts – 20 May 1972". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  58. ^ "RPM Top Singles - Volume 17, No. 10 (April 22, 1972)". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  59. ^ "Search the Charts" (enter "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" into the "Search by Song Title" box, then select "Search"). Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  60. ^ "Give Ireland Back to the Irish (Search results)". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  61. ^ "Paul McCartney: Awards" > "Billboard Singles". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2017.


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