Why do Irish fans Sing Zombie?

During the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France the world has been treated to some epic scenes. None of which stand out more or hit harder than the massed Irish fans serenading their team after games. Their song choice though, may seem confusing.

Why do Irish fans Sing Zombie? Irish Rugby has adopted the 90’s grunge hit Zombie by The Cranberries as their post match anthem. In 2018 The Cranberries singer, and writer of Zombie, Dolores O’Riordan passed away. Shortly afterwards Limerick won the All-Ireland hurling championships and Zombie was used to celebrate both the victory and O’Riordan’s connection with Limerick. Zombie was soon adopted by Munster Rugby, who play at Thomond Park in Limerick. From there the singing of Zombie after Rugby matches has escalated to be used after Irish National team games.

In the aftermath of Ireland’s 13-8 victory over South Africa, a mass of green supporters sang the 1994 hit together on the final whistle.

The Cranberries song Zombie is sometimes seen as politically controversial. Written for the 1994 album “No Need to Argue” it was an emotional response by the band’s lead singer Dolores O’Riordan, then 30, to the Warrington Bombings in which more than 50 people were injured and two children died. Three-year-old Johnathan Ball died at the scene; the second victim,12-year-old Tim Parry, died in hospital from his wounds.

The bombings were part of a complicated political dispute about the sovereignty of Northern Ireland. The dispute turned bloody and the period of the United Kingdom and Ireland’s relationship between the late 1960’s and 1998 is known as The Troubles. The Warrington bombs were claimed by the Provisional IRA, a group keen to see The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a united Ireland and apart from the control of the UK government.

Zombie has always been a controversial song, even at the time of its release, O’Riordan faced some criticism from people who believed the lyrics “In your head” and “It’s not me/not my family,” were evidence that the Irish singer had a misunderstanding of the situation in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The issue is that there can be a link made between the song being anti-IRA and an assumption that it must therefore be pro-partition.

O’Riordan has addressed this directly saying

 “I was quite young, but I remember being devastated about the innocent children being pulled into that kind of thing. So I suppose that’s why I was saying, It’s not me that even though I’m Irish it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it. Because being Irish, it was quite hard, especially in the UK when there was so much tension. I remember seeing one of the mothers on television, just devastated. 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. It was nothing to do with writing a song about it because I’m Irish. You know, I never thought I’d write something like this in a million years. I used to think I’d get into trouble”

It’s clear from her words and the song itself that it is not political. Zombie by the Cranberries is anti-war and pro-peace. Sentiments that all people, and all of Ireland can get behind. The Irish team competing at the Rugby World Cup is a united Ireland team, with players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. What better way to celebrate a United Ireland win than by belting out Zombie? Not to mention that it absolutely slaps.

At the time of its release the video was banned by the BBC and RTE (Ireland’s National Broadcaster) due to its violent imagery. This ban has often fueled the controversial label applied to the song. But the music and lyrics itself were never banned.

As after Ireland’s victories over Romania and Tonga earlier in the tournament Zombie was played over the intercom at the Stade de France after the win against South Africa and even some Irish players took part, as Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony were seen joining in with over 30,000 Irish fans.

The Troubles were a dark time, with both sides taking regrettable actions. The song Zombie is art created in response to history, at the time of it happening. The disputes from the Troubles remain, even today and may never find a true resolution, but as O’Riordan urged us through her music, finding a peaceful solution where innocent children don’t die is surely a better way.

Zombie – 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 fighting

With their tanks and their bombs

And their bombs and their guns

In your head, in your head, they are crying

In your head, in your head

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie

What’s in your head, in your head?

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie-ie, oh

Do, do, do, do

Do, do, do, do

Do, do, do, do

Do, do, do, do

Another mother’s breaking

Heart is taking 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 fighting

With their tanks and their bombs

And their bombs and their guns

In your head, in your head, they are dying

In your head, in your head

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie

What’s in your head, in your head?

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie-ie

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, eh-eh oh, ya-ya

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