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!