Today we remember John Lennon who was shot dead 35 years ago today. Yoko Ono attested to John's love for Ireland in an interview in 2012. "My husband was 100% Irish. That's what he used to say. Ireland was sort of like an auntie or a mother that he wanted to show me".
“When he was born, his mother was English and his father was Irish and he didn’t have too much opportunity to see his father, so he had this yearning for being Irish. In a way it was sad because he was always talking about that"
Lennon's grandfather, John (Jack) Lennon was born in Dublin in 1858, and like so many Irish people emigrated to Liverpool to seek better prospects of employment. There Jack married an Irishwoman called Mary Maguire and started a family. Sadly, their children, including Alfred (Johns Father), were orphaned early on and grew up in Liverpool orphanages. The Irish side of Johns family came from a long line of minstrel singers and crooners. His grandfather Jack had earned his living as a minstrel singer, and his great-grandfather was also a known singer in Ireland. His father Alfred Lennon had also earned extra money singing as a young man. The Lennon family tradition of crooning, which started back in Ireland, continued with John Lennon.
John’s days at the Cliffs of Moher and Dromoland Castle in the 1960’s were an escape during the heights of Beatlemania. He felt an inexplicable bond with Ireland, a bond born in the blood. John & Yoko bought Dorinish Island off the coast of Co.Mayo in 1967. Lennon revealed to friends his plan to build a home and retire there. In a 1971 interview, John stated: “I told Yoko that’s where we’re going to retire, and I took her to Ireland. We went around Ireland a bit and we had a sort of second honeymoon there. So I was completely involved in Ireland.”
John strongly believed in the Irish quest for freedom. An avid reader and voracious consumer of politics and history, John was well acquainted with the events of the Risings and Troubles. He knew the more recent injustices endured by Irish patriots and sympathised with their cause. As biographer, Jon Wiener aptly stated in ‘Come Together: John Lennon in His Time’, John “thought of himself as Irish.” And the FBI file compiled on Lennon (released in 2000) shows “solid evidence” that during his New York City days, John was unapologetically involved with Irish Republicans.
His 1972 solo LP, Some Time In New York City, stepped out courageously in protest of English occupation of the North of Ireland and against British internment of Irish prisoners without trial (a practice begun 9 August 1971), offering two songs – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Luck of the Irish” – as Lennon’s undiluted anthems for Irish rights. In “Luck of the Irish,” John sang:
“A thousand years of torture and hunger,
Drove the people away from their land,
A land full of beauty and wonder,
Was raped by the British brigands!”
Then in “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” (written upon the occasion of the 30 January 1972 “Bogside Massacre” in which 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders were gunned down by British soldiers, killing 13 civilians), John sang:
“You Anglo pigs and Scotties,
Sent to colonize the North,
You wave your bloody Union Jack,
And you know what it’s worth!
How dare you hold to ransom,
A people proud and free,
Keep Ireland for the Irish!
Put England back to sea!”
Lennon held nothing back in support of Irish cause; he lacerated England without buffering his anger and resentment. All royalties from both “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Luck of the Irish” were donated by John and Yoko to the Irish civil rights cells in both New York and Ireland.
As the years passed, his passion for Ireland only increased. On 5 February 1972, John took to New York’s streets with Jerry Rubin and 5,000 other Irish supporters, parading outside the offices of British owned airlines, BOAC. In protest of Britain’s practices in Ireland, John wanted to stand tall and be counted in the cause. And that Irish ardor only increased. John’s use of the term “our marches” in interviews shows his “all-in” involvement with the Irish Republican movement at the time.
Attributing his musical talent “for crooning” to his Irish heritage and risking his reputation by speaking out (and singing loud) for Ireland, (both “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Luck of the Irish” were banned by the BBC and John’s latter appearances were picketed by Loyalist groups), John Lennon stood his ground for Ireland, the verdant land from which his family sprang. Whether you spell his surname Ó Lionain, Ó Leannian, or Lennon, the name still comes from the term leannan meaning “lover or paramour.” And nothing could be more appropriate. John loved Ireland with a passion that only amplified as he matured and aged.
By 1974, when John’s Walls and Bridges LP was released, he included a booklet containing a detailed history of the Lennon family originally printed in ‘Irish Families, Their Names, Arms, and Origins’ by Edward MacLysaght. Interestingly, at the end of that entry where MacLysaght had written, “No person of the name of Lennon has distinguished himself in the political, military, or cultural life of Ireland…” John angrily scribbled in the margin, “Oh yeh? John Lennon!”
And as usual, John was right. In fact, MacLysaght’s 1982 revised edition of Irish Families carried this amendment: “Since the 4th edition of Irish Families, John Lennon, an outstanding member of The Beatles group, assassinated in 1980, has become well known outside Ireland not only as a talented musician but also for his connection with the Peace Movement.” And with this notation, the Lennon family assumed its rightful place in Irish history.
In October 2006, a short film released by the Irish Film Institute detailed the marvelous events of the day in which fervent Irish fans Richard and Maureen Hall spontaneously gate-crashed their way into John’s presence. At the end of that serendipitous meeting, John generously presented Maureen with his Ivor Novello award for “She’s Leaving Home,” telling her that the statue was “only gathering dust” in his house and that he would be pleased for her to take it home to Ireland.
Now, however, it is John’s reputation that is “gathering dust” in the wake of an Irish history that is being chronicled without him. As Seán Mac Mathúna, author of the article, “John Lennon and the Irish Question,” points out so adeptly, John is not listed in The Guinness Book of Irish Feats and Facts. Under the heading of “Top-Selling Irish and Irish-related Popular Music Artists,” Mac Mathúna points out, one can find the names of U2, Van Morrison, and Bob Geldof, but not John Lennon. Similarly, the names of the 'London Irish' Sex Pistols, Boy George, and Elvis Costello are denoted, but not John Lennon. Surely the man who wrote this passage with fire in his eyes deserves representation:
“Why the hell are the English there anyway,
As they kill with God on their side,
‘N blame it all on the kids and the IRA,
As the bastards commit genocide!”
His devotion to the land of his fathers and grandfathers was undiminished at the time of his assassination. His named his second son Seán, the Gaelic version of his own name. About a year before he was shot his London solicitor inquired about organising planning permission on his Dorinish Island off the coast of Co. Mayo. Following his murder, Yoko Ono sold it to local farmers in 1984. She donated the £30,000 proceeds to an Irish children’s charity.
PHOTO: John Lennon at Irish civil rights march, 1972.
A massive thank you to Shelley Germeaux, John Lennon Examiner and Jude Southerland Kessler for the information in this article.