Trevor Ringland was speaking to the News Letter amid a simmering public debate about the rock anthem and its place among rugby fans.
The tune was played through the loudspeakers at the end of the Ireland – South Africa match in Paris on Saturday (which Ireland won 13 – 8), with the crowd at large then picking up the song.
It comes from Irish band The Cranberries’ 1994 album ‘No Need to Argue’ and was written by its Limerick-born singer Dolores O'Riordan.
Its lyrics make reference to 1916, tanks, and lost children, and it has been variously interpreted as an anti-IRA song, a wider anti-Troubles song, and a blanket anti-war song in general.
Details of the song, its inspiration, and the full lyrics, are at this link.
Among those condemning it was Cork stand up comic Tadhg Hickey who said: “Zombie is the perfect partitionist anthem.
"It encapsulates the complete lack of understanding or even basic compassion in the south for the lived experience of Northern nationalists.”
Many others online dubbed the song a “west Brit” anthem, and some complained that it belittled the rebels of the Easter Rising.
In response, Mr Ringland said “first of all what happened in 1916 or 100 years ago has nothing to do with the more recent campaign of violence, [even though] people try to draw similarities between the two”.
He went on to add: “Rugby always showed a different way on this island: it showed violence was never necessary and it's about building relationships across this island between people.
"It's a very powerful song written in response to the Warrington bomb, the murder of two young people – the father of one I remember being at the peace match in 1996 that Hugo MacNeill and I organised [between Ireland and The Barbarians].
“It's a sporting event, but at the same time it's about showing how to do proper relations across this island, and I think [the singalong on Saturday night] paid credit to The Cranberries for that song and for taking the stand that they did.”
As to those objecting, Mr Ringland said they should "look in the mirror – we've enough wasted lives on this island through violence in the past and we want to ensure the future is very different".
He added: “I think those that condemn it maybe they should look deeper at what that song was standing against, and how it also represents what we see on the sporting field".
Mr Ringland played for Ireland from 1981 to 1988, including at the 1987 world cup, and earned around 30 caps for the team.