“The Men Behind the Wire”, Paddy McGuigan (1971)
This is a protest song written by Belfast native and member of the folk group The Barleycorn, Paddy McGuigan. It was written in the aftermath of the first internment sweeps and subsequent violence in the summer of 1971. It make historical connections to the 17th century conquest, comparing British soldiers to “Cromwell’s men”.
“Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, Paul McCartney and Wings (1972)
Coming out of the Irish immigrant community in Liverpool, both Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote songs in the immediate aftermath of the violence of Bloody Sunday. McCartney’s take on the tragedy is more conciliatory, whereas Lennon is much more militant (“You Anglo pigs and Scotties/Sent to colonize the north/You wave your bloody/Union Jacks/And you know what it’s worth!”). Yoko sings on this one; you’ve been forewarned.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono (1972)
“My Little Armalite”, Unknown (early 1970s)
This song is referenced in a number of histories of the Troubles as a popular Provo song in the early 1970s. A number of recorded versions date to the late 1970s and 80s. The title of the song references the Armalite rifle, weapon of choice for the Provisional IRA, and verses mention the author’s fantasy of participating in ambushes on British soldiers on patrol in the Republican neighborhood of Falls Road in Belfast, at the British army surveillance post at Crossmaglen, county Armagh, and at the overcrowded Belfast housing project at Poleglass.
“Alternative Ulster”, Stiff Little Fingers (1979)
Stiff Little Fingers formed in 1977, at the height of the British punk movement. Their first album, Inflammable Materials, included a number of songs specific to life in a Catholic working class neighborhood in Belfast. “Alternative Ulster” references the poverty of the city and the ways that anti-Republican policing exacerbated these problems. Other songs on the album critique paramilitary violence from all sides (“Suspect Device” and “State of Emergency”) and connect the Troubles to deeper problems associated with racism and structural inequality throughout Britain (“White Noise”)
Lyrics to “Alternative Ulster”
“Each Dollar a Bullet”, Stiff Little Fingers (1979)
After a long hiatus from 1982-1991, Stiff Little Fingers began recording again. Their album Flags and Emblems included this song, which critiqued Irish-American contributors to Provisional IRA causes.
“Invisible Sun”, The Police (1981)
Although the song references violence in a generic contexts, the opening reference to Armalite rifles and the use of extensive contemporary footage from Belfast and Derry in the music video situates the song in the context of the late Troubles.
“Back Home in Derry”, Bobby Sands (recorded by Christy Moore, 1984)
Sands wrote the words to this song while in the H-Blocks but before the start of the hunger strikes. His works were written on toilet paper and smuggled out of Long Kesh prison for publication in An Phoblacht/The Republican News. Irish folk singer Christy Moore set this poem to music for his 1984 album Ride On, which contained several songs romanticizing Irish history (as well as a version of Yeats’s “Song of Wandering Aengus”). The tune to “Back Home in Derry” may be familiar to you from Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.
“Northern Industrial Town”, Billy Bragg (1996)
Like several of the songs noted above, English folk singer and activist Bill Bragg connected the Troubles to the problems of poverty, deindustrialization, and structural inequality throughout the British Isles in this song.
“This IS a Rebel Song”, Sinead O’Connor (1997)
This is one of several songs from the late 1990s to reference the peace process (along with works such as “Zombie” by the Cranberries and “Please” by U2). On a number of occasions, O’Connor has spoken disparagingly about musicians who reference peace in the Troubles without acknowledging the brutality of the past; several critics suggest that this song should be taken as a rebuke to U2 in particular.