By Mike Faricy
This past June I found myself in Dublin, along with Bono and U2 who were ready to play their first Irish concert in over twenty years. To suggest it was big news across the Republic does not do this event justice. Let’s be honest here, based on the Irish Times and RTE television, the concert wasn’t just big news, it was the only news across the Republic, receiving leading coverage for the five days proceeding and the five days following the event. During the concert days, the coverage was simply nonstop. U2 played for three nights, Friday June 24, Saturday June 25 and Monday, June 27, to sold out, standing room only crowds at Croke Park (pronounced ‘croak’), which, by the way, holds 82,500. Yes, that’s correct, 82,500 seats, although the crowds were estimated to be more like 85,000 for every night, and interestingly, there is not a parking lot or ramp for miles anywhere around Croke Park.
Croke Park is the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) stadium and as such has quite a history. The GAA was founded as an organization to maintain and promote indigenous Irish sport and until just this past year, the GAA diligently enforced rule #42, which prohibited the use of GAA property for foreign games and events such as soccer, rugby, cricket or American football. It’s fitting that Bono and U2, the world class Irish rock band, should have Croke Park as the venue for their first Irish concert in over two decades. The park was named in 1913 after the first patron of the GAA, Archbishop Croke of Cashel. If you saw the movie, Michael Collins, it’s Croke Park where the armored car of the British Auxiliary Division bashes onto the field during a football match. Tipperary was playing Dublin that November 20 of 1920, the date became Ireland’s first bloody Sunday. Eleven spectators and two players were killed in reprisal for the assignation of fourteen British Intelligence officers by Michael Collins’ squad earlier that same day. One of the murdered players was the captain of the Tipperary team, Michael Hogan, and it was from the section named Hogan’s Stand that I viewed Bono and U2 in concert.
The concert crowd was completely international, Aussies, Brits, Americans, every nation from the EU, not to mention the rest of the world, all walking toward Croke Park. The park (stadium) sits squarely in the middle of a residential neighborhood and the streets were closed to auto traffic for a good half mile in every direction. I walked to the concert on Friday night, the 24th, in traditional Irish weather, a light, nonstop drizzle, and flowed downstream with the crowd on streets lined with souvenir vendors, T-shirt stands, hamburger stands, hot dog stands and customers spilling out the doors of every pub along the way. The crowds remained undaunted by the weather, passing through Garda security checkpoints down Jones’ road where we entered via Hogan’s gate.
Fully half those in attendance were clothed in black T-shirts with a red ‘Vertigo’ blazed across the chest and donning scores of souvenir Stetson hats. Dublin in June remains daytime bright until after 10:00 PM. Bono and U2 took the stage at 8:30 that Friday night and gave a tremendous show backed and flanked by three and four stories of giant video screens, as dusk approached. After 10:00 PM, the show was punctuated with an ongoing pyrotechnic and light display brilliantly coordinated to the music.
Let me state for the record, and to reaffirm earlier statements to my adult children, No! I was not the oldest individual in attendance. I saw one old dear on the arm of her daughter, the daughter an easy ten years older than me. There were also kids in strollers, mothers filling baby bottles with milk—at seventy euros a ticket that speaks volumes.
I was reminded why I don’t usually attend concerts, everyone sings along. Yeah, yeah, I know, but would you spend 70 euro to hear me sing? But it all worked on this night, like you were expected to sing, it was Ireland after all. The band performed every song they’re known for, along with some new numbers. But they brought the house down with Bloody Sunday, and to hear it live at Croke Park brought chills to the spine.
With encore, the concert ended promptly at 11:00, per GAA rules for Croke Park events. As we departed, Garda presence was heavy on motorcycles, horseback, and foot, but the crowds, though spirited, were orderly as all adjourned to Dublin’s pubs. For the concert weekend the Garda were on duty for 12 hour shifts, off 12 hours then back on for another 12, I spotted more than one singing along. I spoke with three girls from Poland, recently arrived and living for the past two weeks directly across Jones Road from Hogan’s gate. They were on their cell phones calling back to Warsaw, casually telling girlfriends that U2 was playing across the street and using their phones to take photos of the crowd. Like so many things in modern Dublin, it was a wonderful international event, a fantastic concert, and a marvelous night to remember.