15 January 2019

Limerick pays tribute
to Dolores O’Riordan
a year after her death

Inside Saint Joseph’s Church, Limerick, where thousands lined up last year to say their final farewells to Dolores O’Riordan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Limerick has been paying tribute today to Dolores O’Riordan, who died a year ago on this day. The lead singer of the Cranberries died on 15 January 2018 at the age of 46.

When she died, I found myself listening a number of times to Zombie, the protest song recorded by the Cranberries. She wrote the song about the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, and in memory of the two young victims, Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry.

Three-year-old Johnathan Ball was killed when two bombs hidden in litter bins detonated on a busy shopping street in March 1993; Tim Parry, aged 12, died five days later.

The song was released 25 years ago in September 1994 as the lead single from their second studio album, No Need to Argue. The song reached No 1 in the charts in many countries, won the ‘Best Song’ award at the 1995 MTV Europe Music Awards.

Dolores O’Riordan wrote the lyrics and chords of Zombie during the Cranberries’ English Tour in 1993.

The Rough Guide to Rock said Zombie had an ‘angry grunge’ sound with ‘aggressive’ lyrics. AllMusic said dismissively that the song ‘trivialised’ the events of the Troubles, and that the ‘heavy rock trudge’ of the song did not play to the band’s strengths.

But Dolores O’Riordan said: ‘This song’s our cry against man’s inhumanity to man; and man’s inhumanity to child.’ Her pain was real: Zombie was a visceral response to the murder of those two children in Warrington, and a seething condemnation of the IRA. It was backed by pummelling, distorted guitars while O’Riordan’s lilt was contorted into a primal howl:

What’s in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh.

She was on tour at the time and found herself deeply affected by the tragedy.

‘I remember seeing one of the mothers on television, just devastated,’ she would recall. ‘I felt so sad for her, that she’d carried him for nine months, been through all the morning sickness, the whole thing and some … prick, some airhead who thought he was making a point, did that.’

She was particularly offended that terrorists claimed to have carried out these acts in the name of Ireland. ‘The IRA are not me. I’m not the IRA,’ she said. ‘The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not.’

She added: ‘When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland, it’s some idiots living in the past.’

Her anger and frustration poured into the song, which she wrote alone in her flat in Limerick on an acoustic guitar, before toughening it up in rehearsals.

The song was released in September 1994 and soon became the band’s biggest-selling single.

Her lyrics were criticised by some people who called her naive and accused her of taking sides in a conflict she did not understand.

But she responded: ‘I don’t care whether it’s Protestant or Catholic, I care about the fact that innocent people are being harmed. That’s what provoked me to write the song.’

The song was a highlight of the Cranberries’ concerts, regularly acting as the closing number. Later it became an anthem for innocent people trapped by other people’s violence. In the 1990s, she would regularly dedicate it to the citizens of Bosnia and Rwanda; and her message applies equally to recent attacks in Manchester, Paris and Egypt.

The official version of the video has been viewed more than 660 million times on YouTube, making it the 210th most-popular video of all time on YouTube.

In 2011, Archbishop Justin Welby, when he was Dean of Liverpool, invited me to preach at the Annual Judges’ Service in Liverpool Cathedral. In my sermon, I pointed out that the Warrington bombers who murdered Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball in 1993 ‘never faced justice.’

‘This was a tragedy that struck me personally, for Johnathan’s mother was Marie Comerford,’ I said. ‘In 2001, the parents of these two young boys met Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. After the meeting, Martin McGuinness declined to say whether he had apologised to those parents on behalf of the IRA.’

‘The Warrington bombers never faced justice, and no mercy was shown to their victims by a man who is now a presidential candidate in the Republic of Ireland,’ I said at the time. And I asked: ‘Is it any wonder that Marie Comerford died of a broken heart …?’

Two years later, Martin McGuinness said the Warrington bombings were a ‘shameful’ act. Speaking before of a lecture he gave at the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Peace Foundation in Warrington, he said he was sorry that the two boys had been victims of the Troubles. But his apology was qualified as he added that Irish children had died too and said it was important that everyone now recognised peace was the only way forward.

Colin Parry’s father Tim Parry learned for the first time last year that Dolores O’Riordan’s song Zombie had been inspired by his son’s murder. He told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme he had been touched by the lyrics but had not known their significance until after the singer’s death.

‘I was completely unaware what it was about. My wife came home from the police centre where she worked yesterday and told me the news,’ he said. ‘I got the song up on my laptop, watched the band singing, saw Dolores and listened to the words.’

‘The words are both majestic and also very real,’ he said. ‘To read the words written by an Irish band in such compelling way was very, very powerful.’

And perhaps it is that message of defiance, peace and solidarity that will be the legacy of Dolores O’Riordan.

Zombie by Dolores O’Riordan:

Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me
It’s not my family
In your head, in your head, they are fightin’
With their tanks, and their bombs
And air bombs, and their guns
In your head, in your head, they are cryin’

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What’s in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh

Du, du, du, du
Du, du, du, du
Du, du, du, du
Du, du, du, du

Another mother’s breakin’
Heart is takin’ over
When the violence causes silence
We must be mistaken

It’s the same old theme
Since nineteen-sixteen
In your head, in your head, they’re still fightin’
With their tanks, and their bombs
And air bombs, and their guns
In your head, in your head, they are dyin’

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What's in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie

[Instrumental Outro]

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