Punk icon John Lydon has spoken about how his Irish heritage has influenced his music and why he travels on an Irish passport.
The Sex Pistols and PiL frontman was born in Holloway, North London and grew up in Finsbury Park, an area with a large Irish, Pakistani and Jamaican immigrant population.
His mother was from Carrigrohane, Co Cork and his father came from Tuam, Galway. The family had to deal with a lot of anti-Irish sentiment when he was younger.
Lydon said: “Poverty drove my parents out of Ireland. They moved to England thinking it was the best thing to do. They wouldn’t teach me Gaelic. I thought it was a fascinating sounding thing. They looked for a new life — as is the case for many Irish.”
As Lydon grew up, examples of Irish culture were never far away and he says that it is no coincidence that Ireland has produced so many great writers. Creativity would have been an important outlet for dealing with the circumstances that were forced upon the Irish over the centuries.
He said: “It’s no accident that the Irish invented stream-of-consciousness literature. It was of absolute necessity. Poverty and deprivation of their own language made this very important. Hence long-term memory, which is a Celtic thing.”
Despite being an Irish citizen, Lydon revealed that he never felt accepted by people on either side of the Irish Sea.
In his book ‘Anger is an Energy’ he wrote: “I never felt Irish. I always felt, ‘I’m English, this is where I come from, and that’s that’. Because you’d be reminded of that when you went to Ireland: ‘Ye’re not Oirish,’ the locals would say. So it was like, ‘Bloody hell, shot by both sides here’.
“The Irish can be incredible snobs – much more so than anything in Britain, even with the class structure. It’s always lurking there.”
Part of his negative feeling towards the Irish may come from his childhood when he was mistreated by Irish Catholic nuns and priests who feared his intelligence.
Lydon said: “Anything that can keep the nuns and priests away from little children I would highly recommend. From my point of view, they are nothing but bad. They were torturers: that’s the word for it, they ‘tortured’ us. It is ridiculous that young children should have to put up with that — that adults can be so spiteful in the name of a cause.
“To be continuously smacked with a ruler— and I’m talking about the sharp edge — so that they could beat the devil out of me. Why are you talking to a five-year-old like that? The fact I could read and write at age five, that made them very suspicious. There you go. That’s the nuns for you. ‘Brides of Christ’ – well, if he had seen that lot. They were satanists.”
Lydon has a love-hate relationship with Ireland but might have represented the country in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.
Irish songwriters Niall Mooney and Brendan McCarthy had written a song that they felt would be perfect for Lydon.
Lydon even said: “I am fully qualified as an American-English Irishman, well-travelled, up and at it and ready.”
Ultimately the idea fell through, with broadcaster RTÉ not being too keen on the idea. However, it showed that he was willing to embrace his Irish side.
He also has warm memories and feelings towards Ireland.
He told Irish News: “I spent a lot of summer holidays at my grandfather’s farm, a run-down kind of place outside Cork.
“But you know, I’ve never been in the north. Although, I have family there. Listen, I got family both sides of the religious agenda – I mean, why not? You know you can’t be getting involved in all that separatism, it’s nonsense. I say, let the gods fight it out. I’ll just wait till the winner comes out.
“My dad was from Galway and my mum from Cork so I know all about warring factions. Oh my God, they’d argue over which was the true Gaelic and yet neither would teach me a word. I was brought up by utter confusionists! Of course that might be why I think internationally instead of in primitive localisms.”
While Lydon is a Londoner through and through, he qualifies for Irish citizenship through his parents and travels on an Irish passport.
He says: “I didn’t ask to move out of Ireland. I’m an Irish citizen. I travel on an Irish passport. Don’t look down your f****n’ nose at me for having an English accent.”
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