37 years ago, we lost a legend. Today marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s passing. Since it was such a shocking moment in history, it’s easy to remember where we were and what we were doing at the exact moment the news broke.
John Lennon died on this day in 1980 – If he had lived he would have been 77 this year. This Blue Plaque is at 34 Montagu Square which was initially bought by Ringo Starr and then rented out to Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix. John and Yoko moved into the property in 1968, and went on to shoot the naked cover of ‘Two Virgins’ in the apartment.
“Imagine”, John Lennon’s “most famous post-Beatles track.” Like “Give Peace a Chance”, the song became an anti-war anthem, but its lyrics offended religious groups. Lennon’s explanation was, “If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion, but without this ‘my God is bigger than your God’ thing—then it can be true. Imagine was released in 1971. Its title track would become an anthem for anti-war movement.
The Beatles came from Merseyside – an area around the city of Liverpool which has the largest Irish population in England, mainly as a result of the exodus of people from Ireland during the Great Famine in the 1840’s. Early in their career, the Beatles had played in Ireland three times: in Dublin and Belfast in 1963, and once again in Belfast in 1964. It was after the split of the Beatles in 1970, that both Lennon & McCartney began releasing songs about the Irish question – all of which were all banned by the BBC: McCartney wrote Give Ireland Back to Irish which became a hit single in 1972, and Lennon wrote Sunday Bloody Sunday, and The Luck of The Irish, both of which were on the album Some Time In New York City that was also released in 1972.
Lennon’s grandfather, John (Jack) Lennon was born in Dublin in 1858, and like many Irish people after the Great Famine of the 1840’s – when Britain allowed over a million Irish people to die of starvation – emigrated to Liverpool to seek better prospects of employment. There Jack married an Irishwoman called Mary Maguire and started a family. Sadly, their children, including Alfred, were orphaned early on and grew up in Liverpool orphanages. As his father Alfred Lennon walked out and left him at the age of 5, Lennon never knew either of his Irish grandparents or anything of his Irish roots. This is probably because he was raised by his mother’s family, the Stanleys, were Welsh. In later years he became increasingly interested in his Irish ancestry. In 1975, John give his second son the name Seán, the Gaelic version of his own name.
Lennon wasn’t the only member of the Beatles eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland International football team. George Harrison’s grandfather on his mother’s side was born in Wexford, while Paul McCartney has Irish ancestry on both sides of his family. In fact, Wings’ debut song was Give Ireland back to the Irish which, despite not having anywhere near the vitriol of Lennon’s efforts, was banned by the BBC. As such, you could well claim that the greatest pop band of all time was an Irish one.
At around 10:50 pm on 8 December 1980, soon after Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota, the New York apartment building where they lived, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times at the entrance to the building. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman. Lennon was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm. Ono issued a statement the next day, saying “There is no funeral for John,” ending it with the words, “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him.” His body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. Chapman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life; he remains in prison, having been repeatedly denied parole.
John Winston Lennon; 9th October 1940 Liverpool – 8th December 1980 New York City
Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.