The Irish and U2: Why ‘The Guardian’ got it wrong

WHY, OH why did The Guardian have to do it? Why did it have to resort to the type of clichéd hatchet-job it would shake its head at in a less lofty publication?

The Irish and U2: Why ‘The Guardian’ got it wrong

“Where the streets have no statues: why the Irish hate U2” ran the headline to an article on July 12, with the sub-head: “They’re bigger than Guinness and George Bernard Shaw. So why are Bono and co so unloved in their home country?”

If the piece were a person, some good friend might have advised it to get checked into a clinic to ease its colonic irritation .

The same friend might also have whispered in the writer’s ear: Don’t go for the obvious line of the Irish being a nation of begrudgers, don’t use that Quiet Man shillelagh to bludgeon U2. Do a bit more legwork and find out why there’s a more complex relationship between the Irish people and the most successful rock band that their country has produced.

It might have been acceptable if it wasn’t so terribly lazy. Where and how do you go about proving your “Irish hate U2” theory, a week before they play their hometown gig in Croke Park today? You go to one pub. One pub. In Dublin. And ask a few people why they hate U2.

Genius, eh? Is that empirical with a capital E, or what?

And to bolster that unassailable evidence, why not go the whole hog and get a few comments from, let’s say, one academic and one politician? Of a particular persuasion.

Lecturer Harry Browne has history here, having previously written a book scathing of Bono. Harry’s political bent is evident in the way he likes to use the word neoliberal a lot. And the politician, Bríd Smith of People Before Profit, put the “national hatred” of U2 down to their decision to avoid paying tax here by moving part of their business to the Netherlands, which is indeed something that very many find infuriating and disappointing.

That said, it could be well argued that the article is from the colander school of journalism. One of the many holes in its “why are U2 so unloved in Ireland” tenet is its highlighting of the fact that unlike Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott there are no statues or plaques dedicated to U2.

Similarly: “If another country produced the best guitar band in the world — let alone with a population of just 4.8 million — you’d expect airports to be named after them”.

The ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour 2017 takes U2 to the BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, in May.
The ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour 2017 takes U2 to the BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, in May.

Woah! Hold on the bell a minute, as Marian Finucane might say. Somebody should have pointed out to The Guardian that Rory and Philo weren’t still rocking when their statues were erected, that you usually have to be dead in this country before these things happen, as Gallagher and Lynott were.

And as for not having an airport called after U2? Another city in another country did indeed name its airport after one of its celebrated music legends — but John Lennon was dead 21 years before Liverpool named its airport after him.

Whatever misgivings Irish people might have about Bono, his mouthing off and his A-list posturing, whatever anger or annoyance at the band’s tax affairs, the notion that the Irish people, or anything approaching a majority of Irish people, hate U2 is an argument based on sand. It’s something postulated as fact without any meaningful proof or support.

In short, it’s supercilious poxtrot .

You won’t have to be in Croke Park today, or have been at any of their sell-out concerts whenever they toured here over the years to know that a hefty chunk of the Irish population love U2 because they’re a simply a brilliantly entertaining rock ’n’ roll band.

This is not being written by their greatest ever fan, though I have been lucky enough to see them in concert a few times and left each one exhilarated.

But the attachment, the connection is deeper than that and goes back to the unrelenting bleakness of Ireland in the 1980s when I was in my 20s and years of recession and mass emigration had sucked the soul out of the country.

It’s worth remembering that we were very short of homegrown heroes back then, with no international success stories of any kind to look up to and lead the way. The first time I saw U2 was in 1986 at Self Aid, a concert organised by musicians to highlight the rampant unemployment that was devastating the country. It was a time of depressing political stagnation and a sense of national hopelessness. If you weren’t one of the 40,000 who had to emigrate every year, and you were lucky to have a job, earnings were taxed at rates of up to 60% and inflation was rampant, touching 25% in 1983.

U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour 2017 reaches CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington, in May this year. Their 1987 album saw them make it onto the cover of ’Time’ magazine.
U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour 2017 reaches CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington, in May this year. Their 1987 album saw them make it onto the cover of ’Time’ magazine.

When Bono said “this is a song about pride, don’t let them take away your pride” at Self Aid it was only five years since the hunger strikes and our national flag had still been appropriated from us by the thugs of the IRA and their supporters — you couldn’t wave it for fear of being seen as a fellow traveller. There was no Ryanair then, allowing Aer Lingus to fleece a generation forced to emigrate, the brain drain as it was called. There were no young entrepreneurs like today, no world-beating Irish sporting or cultural heroes — the odd rugby victory in the Triple Crown or a rare appearance by an Irish act on the BBC’s Top of the Pops was usually as good as it got.

And then, in 1987, U2 released the album that will reverberate around Croke Park today, The Joshua Tree, transforming them into the biggest band in the world and putting them on the cover of Time magazine when that really meant something. It had a profound impact on many of us 20-somethings at the time, especially the many fighting despondency when the mantra was “whoever is last to leave the country, please turn out the lights”.

After all, these were just four lads from Dublin, more or less the same age as ourselves. We’d even ended up having a great night drinking with two of them in the snug at the Dockers while they were recording The Joshua Tree at nearby Windmill Lane. And here they were now, showing that anything was possible, on a global stage.

There wasn’t much about Ireland to be proud about back then, but U2 were extravagantly proud of their Irishness wherever they went and it meant a lot back home. They gave us pride, they gave us hope - and they gave us bloody great music. But the guy from The Guardian probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear all that.

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