“Those who sing Zombie this week after Ireland’s match against Scotland know their history…”

I was at Trent Bridge week last Saturday to watch Ireland complete the only one of their three match ODI Cricket series. It was a blissful catchup with old mates (English and Irish) over a long day of that weird mix of generosity and competition.

It was a particular pleasure to watch fellow Holywoodian Mark Adair in action for one of three island wide sports teams that comfortably straddle a border and sectarian divide that other codes (and the island’s politics) turn into such heavy weather.

We left before the Irish run chase was finally put to rest to get dinner at one of the pubs before settling in at a couple of tables my old Slugger mate Paul Evans had thoughtfully booked for us in front of the TV in time for the Rugby.

I’m no sports writer, so I won’t try to relive the ups and downs of that amazing match except to say that seeing an Irish team lose five out of the first six line outs had rather a dampening effect on our company. The end result however was amazing.

Not as amazing as the controversy that followed the game over The Cranberries’s (good Limerick band) song, Zombie. Of course it is yet another distraction in an era which routinely catapults empty populism to the top of every league.

We live in an era in which crowds sing songs without knowing the ins and outs of their lyrics. I’ve quoted Henry Jenkins’ memorable inversion of the old description of the way in which cancer propagates: “if it doesn’t spread it’s dead”.

There was some pretty odd ideas being floated around about the provenance that song. For my money no one wrapped the context around it better than Gary Murphy in the Sunday Times:

For all his detestation of partition, de Valera never saw rugby in the way that, for instance, Tadhg Hickey does. After Ireland’s victory against South Africa, the stand-up comedian posted on Twitter/X that Zombie was the perfect partitionist anthem encapsulating the complete lack of understanding or even basic compassion in the south for the lived experience of northern nationalists. Hickey then quoted O’Riordan’s lyrics: “But you see it’s not me, it’s not my family.”

This is absurd reductionism. If we were to follow Hickey’s lead, every song written about the Troubles in all its manifestations, and from both traditions, would have to have an equal whataboutery. We would have to include the Wolfe Tones’ *Celtic Symphony* in this.

As pretty much everybody knows, O’Riordan’s song was written in protest after the Warrington bombings in March 1993, when two children, Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry, were killed by bombs placed by the Provisional IRA inside bins in a crowded shopping area.

This was at a time when both Sinn Fein and the IRA had to all and intents and purposes decided that their war was over and were painfully inching their way to the 1994 ceasefire.

All that was left was the odd hideous spectacular to remind the British that the IRA, in Gerry Adams’s famous words of 1995, had not gone away. Warrington was as much for an internal IRA audience as it was a statement to the British.

There are some politicians who seem inordinately concerned about what’s in the heads of those who don’t agree them, and will go to extraordinary lengths to shut them down. Slugger’s play the ball not the man rule is a guardrail against such gameplay.

That said, I think Murphy was probably in the zone when he offered this more practical and plausible theory of what those magnificent Ireland fans were actually thinking…

When the IRA brought the conflict south — as it did in the hideous murders of yet more children, Nicholas Knatchbull and Paul Maxwell in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, in 1979; or the murders of Patrick Kelly, an Irish Army private, and Gary Sheehan, a garda, in Co Leitrim in 1983; or the murder of Jerry McCabe, a garda detective, in Limerick 1996 — the Irish public reacted with revulsion.

Those who sing Zombie this week after Ireland’s match against Scotland know their history but will have little else on their mind except another win.

Rugby will never have the popular support in Ireland of football, a truly global sport, or the GAA, a national institution. But this particular team carries the hopes of the nation, from farm labourers to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, in its realistic quest to win the World Cup.

Amen to that convivial thought Gary…


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