‘The Luck Of The Irish’ was one of two songs on Some Time In New York City written in support of the republican movement in Northern Ireland, a cause with which John Lennon felt affinity in the early 1970s.
Lennon wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in response to the British Army massacre of 30 January 1972. ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ predated the event, and was inspired by a protest march in London that Lennon attended in August 1971. He began writing the song three months after.
I’m a quarter Irish or half Irish or something, and long, long before the trouble started, I told Yoko that’s where we’re going to retire, and I took her to Ireland. We went around Ireland a bit and we stayed in Ireland and we had a sort of second honeymoon there. So I was completely involved in Ireland.
Lennon recorded a demo of ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ on 12 November 1971, along with another Some Time In New York City song, ‘Attica State’. The 20-minute demo tape became part of a film, also titled The Luck Of The Irish, directed by John Reilly and financed by Joko Productions. The film was eventually given a general release in 1975 as The Irish Tapes.
Reilly captured black-and-white footage of Lennon and Ono performing the song. Even at this early stage, it was largely the same as the studio version, although some of the lyrics and chords were yet to be finalised.
Lennon performed ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ on 10 December 1971 at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at a fundraiser for ‘John Sinclair’. The concert was filmed but never released. However, the performances of ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ and ‘John Sinclair’ were both included on the John Lennon Anthology box set in 1998 and on the 2004 album Acoustic.
A brief version of ‘The Luck Of The Irish’ was performed on The David Frost Show on 16 December 1971, and in full in January 1972 on The Mike Douglas Show. In the former Lennon was evidently still working on the lyrics, as “the kids, the church and the IRA” were all held culpable. He also changed the word ‘bastards’ to ‘bummers’, doubtless to to avoid the ire of audiences – something of an ironic move given the song’s subject matter.
The final live performance of the show took place on 5 February 1972. Lennon took part in a protest outside the New York offices of BOAC, the British national airline, in response to the Bloody Sunday massacre.
While Lennon’s recounting of the Irish republican struggle was heartfelt and direct if a little simplistic, the song is let down by Ono’s clichéd contributions, with mentions of shamrocks, rainbows and leprechauns, and a hope for the “world [to] be one big Blarney stone”.
‘The Luck Of The Irish’, coupled with ‘Attica State’, was considered for the lead single from Some Time In New York City, and was given the release number Apple 1846 in the US. Eventually, however, it was replaced with ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, the only single to be issued from the album.