The new year is about looking forward — and sometimes that means looking back. In a new series on wiwibloggs, we’ll have folks reminisce about the highs and lows of watching their beloved nations compete in Eurovision. The good, the bad, the ugly — diehard fans typically live it all.

Today we’re kicking it off with Mark, who looks back at the good and the great of his home nation Ireland between 2003 and 2009.

Eurovision 2003: Riga

My very first Eurovision. There was a lot of hype about the contest in Ireland due to the popularity of “You’re a Star” an X-Factor style selection process that had been introduced that year. Our entry was Micky Harte who finished 11th with his song “We’ve Got the World”. I recall quite a lot of ballads as well as Austria’s entry which seemed to be a kids song about farm animals (and to my disbelief, scored higher than we did). One of the high points of the evening was seeing Ireland getting twelve points from the UK, who incidentally received their first and only nul points scoring that year. The winner was Sertab Erner from Turkey with “Everyway That I Can”. I later discovered it was the strongest winner in a few years and some say set the standard for what was to follow. My overall impression at the end was that this contest is not as easy to win as the Irish media had led me to believe. Oh the innocence!

Eurovision 2004: Istanbul

I was very excited for this contest because I really believed Ireland had a chance. I knew because Louis Walsh said so. Why would he lie? Our entry was “If My World Stop Turning” by Chris Doran. I made sure I was home in time for the contest and I still remember eating boiled sweets from the Euro 2 Shop (only just realised the significance of that name now) as the Eurovision theme tune started to play. It was a very Eastern flavoured contest and Ireland were completely out of place with their slow 90’s style ballad. It ended up finishing second from last, one of our worst placings ever. It was my first proper realisation that Ireland was completely out of sync with the contest, a truly bitter pill to swallow, given all the hype and fuss that had been ongoing for months with the “You’re a Star” programme. I felt betrayed. The winner that year was Ruslana from Ukraine with “Wild Dances”. Many commented that it wasn’t’ a song contest anymore: it was all the about the staging. Maybe they were right, but I liked the song.

Eurovision 2005: Kiev

Against all the odds, “You’re a Star” fever struck me yet again. It was decided that what we needed was a song with some traditional Irish flavour to it and we got it with the brother and sister act Donna and Joe McCaul and their song “Love?” It had a fiddle, a flute and even Irish dancing. I thought we’d cracked it. This was going to do it for us. All of Europe would be stepping in tune to our music. The fact that we had to go through the semi-final process for the first time seemed like a minor inconvenience. I remember walking home early from a football match on a wet evening so I wouldn’t miss the beginning. Imagine my disappointment when we failed to qualify. This was a setback I hadn’t expected. I still managed to watch the final that Saturday, though. My interest in the contest had officially surpassed my interest in my country’s placing; the end of innocence indeed. The voting system took an incredible long time due to the ever growing list of entrants. It would be the last time the scores from 1 to 7 would be announced individually. Greece won, deservedly so, but by then I’d already developed my prejudice about the media’s out and out favourite taking the title. It felt like a spoiler somehow.

Eurovision 2006: Athens

After the disaster of the previous year, Ireland chose established singer Brain Kennedy in a one night only selection contest and with the song “Every Song is Cry for Love”. Having already been wounded too many times, I did not get too psyched about it, as I had in previous years. I was in my first year of secondary school and I would not have dared to openly express my excitement about the contest. However, all my bottled up emotions soon exploded out of me like fireworks when Ireland qualified. I am glad I was home alone at the time. I must have made an ass out of myself. With pride in my country intact, I watched the final with much more interest and though we didn’t win it felt nice to watch other countries award us some points (including ten from Monaco. Merci!). Overall, we finished tenth and the winner was Lordi from Finland. Many older folks were dismayed at such a monstrous looking winner, but the song did grow on me. Another highlight was Iceland’s entry, Silvia Night whose foul mouth and humongous ego attracted a lot of media attention. No one seemed to mention that she was a fictional character. It would have saved a lot of speculation, not to mention trees.

Eurovision 2007: Helsinki

Ireland decided to go back to the traditional roots again and sent Dervish, an established band, with “They Can’t Stop the Spring”. As we finished in the top fifteen the year before, they progressed straight to the final. We had somehow been convinced yet again, that a fiddle and a jig was what Eurovision wanted from us. Many journalists were sceptical but I found myself a prisoner of hope yet again. An unexpected obstacle came when my brother had to run in a national race that weekend on the other side of the country. I was coaxed into going with him and my parents but thankfully the race was long over before the contest started. I watched from a hotel room as Dervish fiddled and twanged their way into the Eurovision abyss. 5 points (thanks Albania). Last place. Our worst result ever. I remember the UK’s entry “Scooch” pained me with its cheesiness. I felt like they weren’t taking it seriously enough. It was therefore quite reassuring that the contest was won by Maria Serifovic from Serbia and “Molvita”. The intense power and emotion of that ballad stayed with me for a long time after and I wondered if we could pull off something similar in Gaelic. I wrote about the contest in my essay for English class and read it in front of my peers the following Monday. I marvel at my bravery now, but no one said anything negative after. These were simpler times.

Eurovision 2008: Belgrade

This is the one Irish people would most like to forget. It did some untold damage to some older viewers of the contest, who still refer to it when asked why they don’t take it seriously anymore. Possibly warped by some of the more eccentric entries of the previous year, the Irish public voted to send Dustin the Turkey puppet to Belgrade. Dustin was a TV icon to many Irish kids growing up in the 90s and early 00s, but how on earth was the rest of Europe supposed to warm to him in three minutes? Former Irish Eurovision winners, Dana and Johnny Logan were suitably appalled at the choice. They must have been relieved that he failed to qualify. We only had to endure the humiliation once. He came, he flapped, he flew home. Other countries like Spain and France sent some dubious entries, but got a better response. Russia took the title with Dima Bilan’s “Believe”, a worthy winner. Despite this, long-time BBC commentator Terry Wogan finally had enough and declared that it was no longer a song contest, and that the voting system needed to change. Testament to his power, the EBU took action the following year.

Eurovision 2009: Moscow

I refer to this as the Recovery Year, though not so much for Ireland. The juries were brought back and were in control of fifty percent of the vote in the final. Encouraged by this change of rule, France and the UK sent their strongest entries in years and finished in the top ten. Yohanna from Iceland — with her beautiful entry “Is it True?” — finished second, thus putting an end to the theory that we needed bordering allies to do well; Graham Norton took the helm at the BBC commentator’s box, paving the way for many amusing one-liners; and to top it all off, old time entrant Norway took the crown with Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale”. Ireland meanwhile selected a rock chick song from a one night selection contest. The song “Et Cetera” sung by Sinead Mulvey and Black Daisy was deserving of the final but sadly came 11th in the semi-final, which was then still decided by the televote. This was also the year the LGBT rights marchers clashed with police in Moscow on the day of the final. It made the news around Europe and made me aware of the strong LGBT presence in the contest, something which had never really been alluded to in the mainstream media up to that point; the Recovery Year indeed.

What are your best and worst memories of Ireland during this period? Do you think their songs are generally underrated, overrated or what? Let us know down below!

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Conor K
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Conor K

Lovely post from a fellow Irish man! 🙂 Indeed, I’m most proud of our 2006 entry 🙂 10th place for an Irish Ballad with 100% Televoting! Really shows the power of Brian’s amazing voice 🙂

Salesor
Guest
Salesor

I really liked this article. Would be interested to read the writer’s opinion about the following entries as well, all the way till 2018

Héctor
Guest
Héctor

Yeah, I’m Spanish but it was interesting. I would like to read more about the following entries. It has also brought me back some memories from those days. I was always positive about our entries, but then we always ended in the bottom five (2005-2009, except 2008, but what an entry…)

NickC
Guest
NickC

Great read indeed. I so want to do this for Turkey in the 80s and 90s.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Just wanted to say this was a great read, I’m glad it’s a series I’m looking forward to them.

I’ve never checked to see what happened post-Eurovision to Dustin the Turkey, and where he is now!

Marcelo
Guest
Marcelo

Dustin The Turkey recently appeared in TG4’s Irish selection show for Junior Eurovision 2018. He appeared in the live episode that brought eventual winner Taylor Hynes with his song “IOU”.

Taylor finished 15th (out of 20) in the contest in Minsk, Belarus. Underrated for me, his song was a true Gaelic bop!

Rafal
Guest
Rafal

Fantastic article. Kudos to the author!

Sabi
Guest
Sabi

Poor Ireland, how the Irish entries sufrered in the 00’s with the Agressive Block televoting and English privilege lost in 99 by EBU freedom language rule change. Personally i love the 2003 and 2005 entries.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Yeah, ’bout that: supposing some of that was because Ireland’s entries weren’t all that great for a decent chunk of that decade? You think Dustin the Turkey flopped because of neighborly voting? And if neighborly voting was such a problem, does that mean you have an issue with the high scores the UK doled out for Ireland when given the opportunity?

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

Most of Ireland’s seven victories are worthy of the title, but everything after 1997 would never have stood a chance regardless of what system was in place. There’s no doubt that the English language was an advantage, but the songs still won on merit – likewise, the neighbourly voting is a disadvantage, but they were never gonna be contenders anyway. I think that Ireland became victims of their own success – winning four out of five years is too much to take for any country.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Oh, absolutely. Pretty much all of Ireland’s winners deserved it. But it also gave them this weird mix of not taking it seriously and thinking they’re too good for it. They’re not as bad as, say, the UK, but it’s odd.

It's the BBC's fault, not the UK's
Guest
It's the BBC's fault, not the UK's

With the British music industry. We sort of downgrade Eurovision below our music scene and most of time, we don’t send in our best efforts. If that’s the case, I don’t see why we can’t just withdraw.

Ireland and the UK once former powerhouses are just as bad as each other now. I hope this changes in the years to come! (as early as next year please)

PP77
Guest
PP77

From 1998 to 2004 we dont have Agressive Block tele ,from 2004 to 2013 we had Agressive Block televoting and from 2013 we have Agressive voting from juries to push every year same countries in voting ( every year Sweden,Australia, Malta, many times The Netherlands,Belgium,Israel,Denmark, Austria,Ukraine)

PP77
Guest
PP77

language rules is not big problem,cwe must say that UK,Ireland send better song in contest, before 1999. English language help Ireland to won in 1993,1996 and to won UK in 1981 (but clever staging help more in that case).

Dave
Guest
Dave

Meanwhile I’m still praying that San Marino won’t choose that scary guy. But I feel like it’s too late already. ;(

Joe
Guest
Joe

That’s all rumor mill junk. Neither party has said anything about it and nobody but Wiwibloggs is talking about it.

James
Guest
James

The Sanmarinese delegation head said they picked an “international artist”. I don’t think the human Ken Doll fits that description to a tee.

TheDrMistery
Guest
TheDrMistery

Nice read! Good job, although it would be fun to go through all the entries up to last year.

Darren
Guest
Darren

This article could have been written by myself as I had the same rollercoaster emotions watching my country these years. Particularly being in 1st year in secondary school in 2006, when Brian Kennedy brought us back to the final in Athens.

I also share in the pain that we should have qualified in 2009. “Et Cetera”, was one of the best songs in ESC 2009, particularly in Semi 2. How Croatia managed to be the jury’s favorite is beyond me.

Gio
Guest
Gio

Heey!! Croatia 2009 was one of my favorites. That would be so unfair if they stayed in the semi with that beautiful performance. 🙁

Darren
Guest
Darren

Haha apologies but I remember thinking it was so bad 😀 In the end it wasn’t even top 10 in the semi, it was 13th I think but it qualified as a jury wildcard.
Ireland finished 11th that year.

florin
Guest
florin

i wonder why wiwi ignore romania.. we have the best semifinals in years maybe in history and not a single article here

Frisian esc
Guest
Frisian esc

They’ve made an article on it.

Eurovision Online
Guest
Eurovision Online

I’m from Ireland. My first Eurovision was 2011 and I’ve watched it every year since. It’s a pity that Eurovision is treated as a joke in Ireland and it’s a pity that Irish singers (established and upcoming) think Eurovision is a career killer. Hopefully this perception will change if someone like Una Healy enters the Eurovision for Ireland this year. Ireland has a great music industries in the world for only 5m people. We have Hozier, Kodaline, Gavin James, Una Healy, Picture This, Hare Squead, Nadine Coyle, James Vincent Mc Morrow and many more world class singers and songwriters. I… Read more »

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

I would like to see Le Boom represent Ireland. Check them out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqhwI-rBoWY Failing that, RTÉ should get Bressie involved, if not as the lead artist, then as the “mentor” – he knows how to write a pop melody, how to produce music to a high professional standard and even has his own recording studio. He’s been on The Voice as a coach, I don’t know why he would turn his nose up at the Eurovision Song Contest. I could tolerate Una Healy, but only if she has no hand whatsoever in the songwriting and is given a great song,… Read more »

Darren
Guest
Darren

A win for countries like Austria and Portugal was all that was needed for the public to get interested again. If Ireland did win it would have the same effect. However I don’t think that will happen. RTE doesn’t even want it to happen. They were scared last year when Ryan was second favorite. 16th place was such a relief to them. If Una Healy does represent us, as is rumoured, I think the song needs to be an upbeat banger, and maybe some kind of feminist message, it seems ESC winners need to have a message in their song.… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

Very fun article!

ESCFan2009
Guest
ESCFan2009

My honest opinion from Germany to Ireland: Your Dustin the Turkey is absolutely… amazing! “Irelande Douze Points to the funky beat” <3 Love it! 😀

Paul
Guest
Paul

Agreed! Dustin’s song is an absolute banger!