For fans of the Irish national rugby team, “Zombie” by The Cranberries is more than just a song; it has risen to the status of an alternative national anthem capable of transcending all divisions, from territorial to religious. Just before the start of a game, everyone sings it loudly, from supporters to players representing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
A glance at one of Ireland’s matches at the Rugby World Cup, currently taking place in France, reveals how Dolores O’Riordan’s voice has become a unifying element among the spectators. The atmosphere in the stands and throughout the stadium is truly magical.
— Sly Cooper (@SlyCooperBurner) September 25, 2023
Until a few years ago, “Zombie” was never officially played in sports events, partly due to the song’s political significance, which highlighted the violence in Northern Ireland in 1993.
In Ireland, the Cranberries’ classic gained popularity in the sports context starting in 2018 when Limerick’s hurling team, O’Riordan’s hometown, won the Irish championship. During the celebrations, the singer was remembered by fans with her most famous song. Over time, “Zombie” has been increasingly accepted as a chant in sports stadiums. It made its way into the world of rugby thanks to Munster Rugby fans, a team in the United Rugby Championship, and was later adopted by the national team. Irish officials then included the song in the playlist played before and after matches in the Rugby World Cup, as is the case with most top-level sports teams.
When it comes to rugby, finding an official and shared anthem is easier. The national team represents the entire island, as is the case in field hockey and cricket, but not in football. That’s why the national team is represented by a shamrock flag and does not sing the Republic of Ireland’s anthem, “Amhrán na bhFiann,” but “Ireland’s Call,” a song used as an anthem since the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Speaking of “Zombie,” former national player Shane Byrne explained, “It was originally written as a protest song. But sometimes, a beautiful song should be taken simply as a beautiful song.”