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26th Sep 2023

“Sometimes a good tune is just a good tune” – Shane Byrne gives his take on ‘Zombie’ debate

Simon Kelly

The debate rages on.

Just as it did with ‘Celtic Symphony’ and the Wolfe Tones debacle a few weeks ago, the current debate over the use of The Cranberries’ classic ‘Zombie’ by Irish rugby fans in France rages on.

Written by Dolores O’Riordan after a 1993 IRA bomb explosion in Warrington killed two children, the song’s recital by the crowd in Paris after Ireland’s victory over South Africa has garnered mixed reception, with some saying the song discredits the experience of nationalists in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The debate has now find itself into the studio and RTÉ’s Upfront programme, which aired on Monday, September 24, saw presenter Katie Hannon trying to drill down into the nuance of the argument.

First up to speak was comedian Tadgh Hickey, who tweeted after the match that the song is “the perfect partitionist anthem” and that it “encapsulates the complete lack of understanding or even basic compassion in the south for the lived experience of Northern nationalists.”

On the programme, Hickey clarified his statement by saying that the lyrics “It’s not me, it’s not my family” tend to stick to “an overall 26 county perspective on the North.”

“It’s an incomplete picture of the situation in the North that you get a lot in the South which is basically 1916, 1922, then a black hole of history before the Troubles, and then the awareness kicks back in again at IRA atrocities.

“The salient point I want to make is that I’m sure other people will say ‘it’s just a song, let’s have a laugh, it’s rugby, enjoy you’re day.’ Yeah, I totally agree with that, it’s actually the Irish establishment that politicised it, not clowns on Twitter like meHickey went on to highlight the narrative being driven by some in the Irish media which “puts a line in the sand and creates a culture war between ‘idiots’ who sing ‘Up the Ra’ and don’t understand their history and the more nuanced, more middle-class rugby fraternity who understand their history a lot better.”

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Shane Byrne defends the use of ‘Zombie’ by Irish rugby fans

On the other side of the argument was cult rugby star and former Ireland player Shane Byrne, who called the ‘Zombie’ controversy “daft”. He made the point that the main takeaway from the song is simply “anti-war” and “anti-violence”.

“I think no matter what way you look at it, it’s a protest song. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen Rage Against the Machine – all of these bands have had protest songs.

“The only way anybody could really get offended by this is if they were up the North, they were nationalists and they completely supported the violence that was there and that’s just not the case.

“It’s an anti-war song, it’s an anti-violence song.”

Byrne went on to make the point that the song had already been in the rugby sphere since it was played in tribute to her passing Thomand Park.

“Sometimes its just a good tune. Yes there’s a meaning behind it, yes it was originally written as a protest song, but sometimes a good tune is just a good tune.”

The host then asked Byrne would he say the same about the use of the refrain “Ooh ah, up the RA” in ‘Celtic Symphony’, which drew huge controversy earlier in the month.

“Did you think anyone there was thinking about the meaning behind that?” Byrne responded.

“99.9% of people who sing ‘Ooh ah, up the Ra’ in inappropriate times are not even remotely thinking about the meaning behind it, they’re just wrapped up in the moment, as were everybody in Paris that day.”

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