From the Archives of great Irish music festivals

Tom Dunne takes George through the archives of great Irish music festivals

In this week's series of 'From the Archives', Newstalk's Tom Dunne takes us through the history of great Irish music festivals. Attended by "students, German hippies, Irish trad aficionados, Hells Angels, Hare Krishnas and left-wing revolutionaries", the history of Ireland's music festivals provides a good barometer of the social changes the country has undergone over the years.


First up Tom and George reminisce about the Lisdoonvarna festival, which ran from 1978-1983. Describing the festival as like "an adult Gaeltacht", Tom recalls how, upon arrival, festival-goers were met by empty fields where toilets and hot food were conspicuous by their absence. 

However, they weren't the only things that Lisdoonvarna seemed to be missing. Tom describes how the political climate of the 1970s meant that internationally-renowned acts tended to avoid Ireland because "they felt that they'd be blown up". Usually, the headliners were Irish acts like Planxty, Van Morrison or Rory Gallagher.

But while the festival lacked international flavour, it made up for by allowing revellers an escape from the repressed and gloomy atmosphere of 1970s Ireland. Importantly, it gave people a chance to realise for the first time that there were other people who liked listening to music as much as they did.


Next Tom talks about when Thin Lizzy headlined Dalymount Park in 1977 in what was billed as Ireland's first one-day open-air rock festival. The band, who were supported by the Boomtwown Rats, were at the peak of their powers and played for the paltry price of just £4.

Setting the scene, Tom remembers that music magazine Hot Press had just launched and promised to make Ireland "safe for rock and roll"; the Dalymount festival was looking to provide another sanctuary. The idea of a concert being held in a football stadium was new, and like Lisdoonvarna, the facilities were very basic.

But the only thing people remembered was the rock-star vibe Phil Lynott brought, playing to crowd of 30,000 people on his birthday. Tom recalls how the band began playing 'Dancing in the Moonlight' just as the sun was setting, which rounded off what was ultimately an unforgettable night.


In the next of Tom's recollection of great Irish music festivals, he looks at the Féile Festival held in Tipperary between 1990 and 1994. It's a festival that holds a special place in Tom's heart, being the first Irish festival at which he can remember the experience of being on the other side of the stage with his band, Something Happens.

The Féile originally took place in Semple Stadium in Thurles, and Tom remembers how the facilities were still very basic. However, by then he could move on from complaining about the lack of toilets and on to complaining about the lack of VIP passes. But Tom still remembers how almost exclusively Irish the festival's lineup was, something which contributed to a unique atmosphere.

By the mid-1990s, locals began complaining that the Féile was creating too much pollution and it was eventually moved further afield. Unfortunately the festival didn't last too much longer, with its new locations seemingly unable to recapture the magic of the 'Trip to Tipp'.


Moving towards the 21st century and a cultural milestone for modern Ireland, Tom visits the Witness and Oxegen festivals held in Punchestown, Co. Kildare. Beginning in 2000, the festivals marked the beginning of three-day Irish music events and could boast toilets, food, and even a funfair for people to attend between waiting for bands.

Once again Tom found himself on a different side of the microphone, this time interviewing the acts who were performing over the weekend. Big stars began playing across the three-day event, which meant the likes of the Sawdoctors could be found mingling backstage with Snoop Dogg.

Soon, people from BBC and MTV began attending and it began to feel that Ireland had finally found its place on the musical map. The media attention only added to the huge sense of freshness to the festival, which ultimately wrote the blueprint for almost every Irish festival since.


For his final festival, Tom looks at one probably the biggest event in Ireland’s musical calendar: Electric Picnic, held in Stradbally, Co Laois. It’s a festival that George knows well, having headlined the ‘Newstalk stage’ there last year – an event that convinced him that he’s become a little bit too old for music festivals.

Beginning in 2004, Electric Picnic originally launched as a “boutique festival”, something that was about more than music alone. As well as quality bands, the weekend promised comfort and quality facilities like showers and massage parlours.

It was truly a festival for the middle classes, where families were targeted as much as music lovers. Musically, the festival provided an eclectic mix of “cool” bands with those you wouldn’t normally listen to. Such is its diversity that the festival might yet see another appearance from George this year.