Paul McCartney and Wings – Give Ireland Back to the Irish (1971) (Video) (Lyrics)
(Written March 19, 2023)
Paul McCartney never disappoints, and “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” can be considered a perfect demonstration of the breadth and depth of his talents. This past winter, December 2022 to be exact, The 7” Single Box Set hit stores. This monster encompasses 80 seven-inch vinyl singles dating from his Wings and solo careers, spanning over 50 years of musical history (1971-2022). Easily retailing for hundreds of dollars, the idea works as vinyl continues to come roaring back thanks to collectors and the lack of a better medium. What could be better than listening to music the way it was originally intended? As I have no vinyl collection and my days of collecting physical music (my CD collection in the 90s, early 00s) are long over, it never occurred to me to find the collection digitally. Fortunately, that is precisely what I did, and for that, I am grateful. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” shines in the collection as the gem it is.
Rediscovering my favorite Wings hits, along with Paul McCartney’s extensive back catalog of solo work, made listening to The 7” Single Box Set a guilty pleasure. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” definitely caught my attention. First, I had forgotten how much I love the song. It also hit me how easy it is to forget that Paul McCartney can actually rock all on his own, silly love songs aside. I still consider it among the best protest songs of all time.
Then there is the significance of the song. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I devoured the news daily. I learned about “the Troubles” at a young age, and it is still something I will never understand. Hatred between Catholics and Protestants? It didn’t make sense. Differences of opinion and belief? Yes. Hatred? No. It went against not only everything I had experienced as a child in my daily life, it also went against everything I had been taught to believe.
First, my father’s extended family is roughly half Catholic and half various Protestant denominations. While my family and I belong to the Methodist church, my paternal first cousins were raised in the Catholic Church. As a toddler, I attended cousin Nicole’s first Communion. When my Russell grandparents married in 1943, my Protestant great grandmother, Dad’s Grandma Russell, supposedly didn’t originally like the idea of her youngest son marrying a Catholic.
Next, Standish, Michigan, the site of my entire K-12 education, is largely Catholic. I spent my early childhood watching my classmates attend Catechism on Wednesday evenings. My Catholic classmates knew my beloved Joyce – my neighbor, babysitter extraordinaire, and adopted grandmother – from 3rd grade Catechism as she taught Catechism for nearly three decades. I watched in envy that spring as the Catholic girls dressed up as miniature brides to make their first Communion. Later, as an adult, Mom shared with me that she’d felt the same way watching her Catholic best friends make their first Communions decades before.
Finally, our neighbors were Catholic. Not only were they Catholic, they were the most devote Catholics I’ve ever known. It is no secret that my brother, sister, and I adored Joyce and Carl. On Saturday afternoons, Joyce could often be found ironing all of the linens about to be used in Mass later that evening. Earlier in my childhood, my parents actually used to go out from time to time on Saturday evenings. Joyce could babysit, but there was one catch: my sister Erica and I would be attending Mass with her family, as would our brother Garrett years later.
Much to my Methodist grandmother’s amusement, her Catholic friends would comment on seeing my sister and I, dressed up and on our best behavior, in Mass with Joyce and her family, looking cherubic. Erica and I may have attended the local Catholic church more than our Methodist church in our earliest years. Those Saturday evenings are among some of my best memories of time spent with Joyce, Carl, Carla, and Joelle.
Even as a young child, I recognized the cognitive dissonance required for me to hate Catholics. It would have meant hating many of the very people closest to me throughout my childhood – friends, family, teachers, etc. – solely based on religion. Considering my paternal grandmother’s Ukrainian/Polish heritage, it would almost demand some level of self-hatred. I will never even begin to understand.
Supposedly Paul McCartney’s family was a mixture of Catholic and Protestant as well, which would explain “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” Even given his level of fame, the song took a certain amount of courage to write and record, particularly in the aftermath of the Beatles and the formation of Wings. The lyrics say it all:
Great Britain you are tremendous
And nobody knows like me
But really what are you doin’
In the land across the sea?
Lyrics: Paul McCartney/Linda McCartney