A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to Dublin where we hoped to visit some U2 landmarks. We wandered over to the tourist office off Grafton Street to find out if they could help. A red-haired guy greeted me at the counter.
“Do you have anything like the London Walks tours for U2?”
“A wot?” he asked, a funny look on his face.
“You know, a walking tour where you see some of the big U2 landmarks. Like they do in London with the Beatles and punk.”
He was silent for a second. Then with a genuinely puzzled expression, he said “Why would anyone want something like that?”
I later told the story to Bono who laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “U2 has an interesting relationship with Ireland.”
We eventually hired a car and using a couple of Internet sites managed to find the streets we were looking for. Part of the tour included dropping into a tiny one-room museum devoted to U2 ephemera. On the wall was a quote from Bono that kind of summed up what the guy at the tourist office was probably thinking.
In the United States, you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.
This brings me to a story in The Guardian called “Where the streets have no statues: why do the Irish hate U2?”
For three decades U2 have filled the world’s biggest stadiums as easily as guitarist The Edge fits his trademark black beanie hat. The group’s cultural reach is as wide as the 200-ton arachnid-shaped stage they once performed their mammoth shows on. As an Irish export, they’re in the same category as George Bernard Shaw and Guinness.
If another country produced the biggest guitar band in the world – let alone one with a population of just 4.8 million – you’d expect airports to be named after them. But walk around the musicians’ home city of Dublin and you’ll barely see an image of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. There’s no major mural solely dedicated to the group. You might, though, catch some graffiti scrawled on concrete walls and darkened doorways, opining in classically Irish slang that, “Bono is a Pox”.
They have their home-town fans, of course. U2’s upcoming show at the 73,500 capacity Croke Park stadium is sold out. But to huge sections of the Irish population, Bono is about as welcome as cold sores and spam email. How can that be?
Many of the patrons of Grogans pub – a mid-sized bar in the centre of Dublin you could reasonably pitch to tourists as authentically Irish – share a distaste for U2. Not all can source the root of their feelings, but there’s one thing most do agree on: it doesn’t simply come down to the echoing guitar riffs or grandiose gesturing of their music.
“I think it’s quite an accomplishment for Bono. He does so much for charity and the poor and yet people still do hate him.”