To understand U2 and their music one has to know the history of Ireland. Only in this way it is possible to interpret many of their songs properly. But, of course, in addition to Ireland’s U2 sights, there are many fantastic regions and towns to visit – whether a journey to Kilkenny in the south, or further in the south to Cobh near Cork, where the mighty St. Colman's Cathedral overshadows the small village where the Titanic docked its very last time, or to the west where the 'Ring Of Kerry' is a must-see, or to Dingle, Ireland’s most westerly point, or up to the north, where a giant is said to have planned a path to Scotland (Giants Causeway). Ireland, with its lush green and beautiful landscapes, is a pleasure. Finally, there is a pub in every village, and live music is often played there every day of the week (mainly in the south-west).
But turn to Ireland’s history first:
The Republic Of Ireland was founded not until 1949, and it took a stony and bloody path to get there. For a long time Ireland had been under the power of the British crown. Already in the 12th century Anglo-Norman conquerors occupied the island, but failed to expand their authority throughout the country. Still, the English king Henry VIII became at least formal King of Ireland in 1541. For the most part, Ireland’s population was strictly Catholic, yet the English crown, turning away from Rome in 1534, tried to settle loyal protestants on the island, thus causing frequent struggles or even massacres between followers of the two religions. In 1800 the Irish parliament passed the ‘Act of Union’, which finally sealed the unification of Great Britain with Ireland under constitutional law.
In the 1840s occurred the worst famine in Irish history, with extreme consequences for population, economy and cultural heritage. Multiple crop failures led to food shortages that not only killed about a million people, but at the same time also forced about two million people to emigrate from the island. Most of them travelled to the United States of America. In 1851, after the famine, the population had declined from 8.8 million to 6.6 million.
During the 19th century the Irish once more stood up for their independence, in which both Irish national pride and religion were important. Until the 1920s there had been a near civil war between British army and Irish independence fighters throughout Ireland, effectively splitting the island into a British north and an independent south. In 1937 a new constitution was passed, and Ireland left the Commonwealth. In 1949, finally, Ireland became a republic, and in 1972 a member of the EC. In the 1950s tensions seemed to ease, but already in 1968 another civil war began. During a peaceful demonstration of a catholic civil rights movement violence escalates, and in front of running TV cameras demonstrators are attacked by Ulster police and paramilitary groups.
Hooded unionists at first attack catholic residential areas in Londonderry, but shortly after also become active in Belfast, and - without the predominantly protestant police offering protection - London has to intervene. In August 1969 the British government sends 6000 British soldiers to Ulster to secure ‘peace and order’. But they are unfamiliar with the particular conditions in Northern Ireland and turn out to be unprepared. Violence escalates again when on 30 January 1972, now known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Ireland, British paratroopers shoot dead 14 unarmed participants of a forbidden catholic civil liberty demonstration.
A vicious circle of terror and counter-terror follows. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), which formed in 1919-21 during the Anglo-Irish war but had been forbidden under Irish president de Valera, begins their third wave of terror, which lasts until the end of the 20th century. The IRA’s officially announced aims are the protection of the catholic minority, the ejection of the British army, and the reunification of Ireland. Their method is pure terror, and over the years the IRA commits countless bomb attacks.
In 1994 the IRA heralds a armistice, which is later joined by protestant groups. Yet in 1996 the IRA again denounces the armistice, upon which the British government discontinues all negotiations and proceedings with Sinn Féin, the political arm of the IRA. Finally, in 1998-2000, with the help of American president Clinton, it is possible to negotiate another armistice, lasting until today. (References: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Irland-Inside.de)
Recommendations for Travelguides: 'Vis a Vis, Ireland' and additionally a Michelin Ireland Roadmap.