Bono claims John Lennon as Irish at event on Ellis Island

Tapestry unveiled depicting island of Manhattan as yellow submarine piloted by Lennon

U2's Bono claimed John Lennon and the rest of The Beatles as Irish at a ceremony on Ellis Island off New York City to unveil a giant tapestry marking the 40th anniversary of the Liverpudlian singer getting his US green card.

Speaking in the presence of the former Beatle's widow Yoko Ono, Bono evoked the famous image of Lennon holding up his two fingers in a peace sign on Ellis Island with the Statue of Liberty behind him.

"That's why it is fitting to do this here, because John Lennon was an immigrant," said Bono, before an audience that included U2 guitarist The Edge and Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.

“He didn’t sail across the Atlantic in an ocean liner or a yellow submarine. He didn’t come in on a third-class ticket looking for a job in Hell’s Kitchen. He didn’t climb up out of steerage with all his potatoes in a single suitcase. But John Lennon was an immigrant all the same.”


The tapestry depicts the island of Manhattan as a yellow submarine piloted by a waving Lennon, recalling the famous Beatles song and the musician’s residence in the city which he made his home from 1971.

The art work was commissioned for Ono by Art for Amnesty founder Bill Shipsey, the Irish senior counsel, as a thank you for granting Amnesty International the rights to record cover versions of some of Lennon's post-Beatles songs in 2004. The organisation has raised more than $5 million (€4.5 million) in royalties from the songs.

Bono tribute

Bono noted in his speech that the first immigrant through Ellis Island was Annie Moore from Cobh, Co Cork, who came through the door's of the island's immigration facility on New Year's Day 1892. He referred to the Irish parentage of all four of the Beatles, describing Lennon as "one more Irish immigrant on an island full of Irish immigrants".

“Let’s claim him, in fact let’s claim all the Beatles not as immigrants but as Irish,” he said to cheers from the crowd.

He paid tribute to Lennon, saying his music registered with him and The Edge growing up as teenagers in Dublin. Lennon offered words like All You Need Is Love to him and others "not as a balm but as a kind of dare".

“Give Peace A Chance – there’s another dare. Will we?” asked Bono.

Speaking of the day Lennon discovered he had been granted a green card, Ms Ono said “I heard his heart beating fast, I remember how proud he was.” To mark the date, the speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito declared July 29th as “John Lennon Day”.

The tapestry has been donated to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation for display at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. The cost of the commission by New York-based Czech artist Peter Sis was covered by Bono, The Edge and music business impresario Jimmy Iovine.

This is the third tapestry to be commissioned by Mr Shipsey. An art piece honouring former Czech president Vaclav Havel, also by Sis, was unveiled in Prague and funded by Bono, The Edge, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Yoko Ono, while a tapestry by Sis dedicated to the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney hangs in Dublin Airport.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent