Perhaps the greatest Irish band in history.
They came from Liverpool, a city with an Irish population so large that it's known as "The Real Capitol of Ireland
," and with an accent, "Scouse," that betrays its Irish influence
. There were four in the band, and three were of Irish descent.
It started with John
, the son of Alfred Lennon
, an itinerant Merchant Seaman who was absent for much of John's life, and whose parents hailed from County Down. He formed a skiffle band with fellow students at the Quarry Bank school.
The next to join was Paul
, who has Irish ancestry on both sides of his family.
Paul had a friend named George
, then 14, who auditioned for the band, despite Paul thinking him too young. George was likewise Irish on both sides -- unsurprising, seeing as he shares a name with a famous Irish Republican arms runner
We should briefly mention the two who joined but did not remain. There was the Scottish-born bass player Stuart Sutcliffe
, a friend of John's from art school who was the band's original guitarist, who died young of an aneurism, and the Madras-born drummer Pete Best
, whose grandparents were Irish. But Pete was replaced, of course, by Richard, who everybody called Ringo
, who knew of no Irish background.
Aside from the tendency of the Irish to claim everybody who has a little Irish heritage as one of theirs, does it matter? Well, a case could be made that they sort of sound Irish
. And, in interview, Paul explicitly credits the Irish for Liverpool's strong musical heritage.
John Lennon found the influence of Irish and Scottish folk songs
in the American music that inspired him.
There's a nod to the band's Irish background in "A Hard Day's Night," which cast Irish actor Wilfrid Brambell as McCartney's grandfather
, and has him tell a police officer "I am a soldier of the Republic."
More than that, the three Beatles strongly identified as Irish. "We're all Irish
," John Lennon declared when the band toured Ireland in 1963; it was no surprise, as a result, that this past year Yoko Ono declared
"John ... sometimes considered himself 100% Irish."
After the Beatles broke up, two of them made their heritage more explicit. Inspired by the Irish Republican movement (and especially the events of Bloody Sunday
), both John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs drawn from their Irish backgrounds. Paul McCartney actually charted
with the debut song by his band Wings, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish
," which featured Northern Irish guitarist Henry McCullough
McCartney also authored a song called "The End Of The End
," which he described as
"taken from the Irish idea of a wake. They don't get morbid. They all just say, 'Ah, he's a great fellow. You want another drink?' And they tell each other jokes and things. And coming from Liverpool, which we sometimes describe as the capital of Ireland, I've always enjoyed that idea."
In the meanwhile, Lennon wrote a much harsher response to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, titled "Sunday Bloody Sunday
." About the song, he said
"if it's a choice between the IRA or the British army, I'm with the IRA. But if it's a choice between violence and non-violence, I'm with non-violence. So it's a very delicate line... "
Lennon and Yoko Ono also authored a song
titled "The Luck of the Irish
," the proceeds of which he donated to Irish rersistence. Perhaps the most surprising of Lennon's Irish-inspired songs was "Woman is the Nigger of the World
," a song he claimed was inspired by Irish revolutionary James Connolly
, who has once said "the female is the slave of the slave."
Lennon eventually told Rolling Stone
that "I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that - looking at our scrapbook of madness." And, indeed, he eventually bought a retirement island
off the West Coast of Ireland, which he owned until his untimely death at the hands of a deranged fan in 1980.
What of Harrison? According to Damian Smyth, co-author of The Beatles and Ireland
, "Of all The Beatles, it was George who had the strongest Irish connections by far." He continues "George had cousins living in Drumcondra [North Dublin] and he made a point of visiting them when they came over to play in 1963. But even before that, in the late forties and early fifties, the family would get the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin to stay with the cousins and go to places like Malahide Beach; I have photos of him there and [of him] walking down O’Connell Street with his mother. So there was a strong connection from the family point of view."
Harrison would return to Ireland throughout his life. An early vacation with his soon-to-be-wife Pattie Boyd was to Ireland
. When Harrison was the victim of a stabbing in 1999 (another deranged fan), it was to Ireland that he fled
Harrison's music didn't overtly draw from his Irish heritage, but he had a second career -- he produced films through his own company, HandMade Films
. These included the great British crime film "The Long Good Friday
," which includes IRA gun runners, Irish director Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa
, the great comedy Withnail and I
, including a memorable scene with Irish actor Daragh O'Malley
, and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
, a film about an Irish spinster. Harrison, alas, also died young. succumbing to cancer in 2001.
Paul McCartney is still with us, of course. In fact, recently, he has agreed to fill in for an Irish-American rock and roller
who died too young -- last night he filled in the Kurt Cobain role in a Nirvana reunion benefit for hurricane Sandy