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When Irish eyes are smiling: Ireland at Eurovision

20 August 2017 at 09:00 CEST
Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan won the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland RTE
It may have been 21 years since Ireland last won the Eurovision Song Contest but the country remains the reigning champion of the competition with seven victories in total since their debut in 1965. Compiling a Top 10 of Ireland's most successful entries may have been an easy task but with such a strong record, many top five entries failed to make the final list.

Ireland made its debut in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965, finishing sixth with the song Walking The Streets In The Rain which was performed by Butch Moore. Ireland got off to a strong start in the contest and scored its first victory in 1970 with Dana and All Kinds of Everything (#7 in our Irish Top 10). Dana later turned the song into a hit all over Europe, and enjoyed a successful singing career in the 1970s before embarking on a career in politics. 

Dana not only beat Julio Iglesias, who represented Spain in Eurovision that year, but placing second behind her was Mary Hopkin from the United Kingdom, a country with which Ireland has had a particularly common battle in the Eurovision Song Contest. In fact, it was a case of history in reverse in 1970 since three years before Ireland's Sean Dunphy finished second to the UK's Sandie Shaw with his 1967 entry, If I Could Choose, which also narrowly missed out on a place in our top 10.  

What's Another Year?

The 1970s weren't as successful for Ireland as their earlier years but the country did score top five results in 1978 and 1979 before winning the contest again in 1980, ten years after their first victory. What's Another Year, a song penned by Shay Healy set Johnny Logan on the path to making Eurovision history. What's Another Year became a hit all over Europe, reaching number one in the UK, and it's at #6 in our list.  

In 1984 Johnny went behind the scenes, writing a song (Terminal 3) for another singer. The chosen singer was Belfast-born Linda Martin, who had been a member of the live band Chips, with whom she had tried to represent Ireland in Eurovision a number of times before. Terminal 3 ended in second place in Luxembourg, only 8 points behind the winners, Sweden, and just makes it into our Top 10.  

If at first you don't succeed...

Throughout the 1980s Logan kept trying to hit the charts but he failed due to what he considers inexperience and was said to have experienced management troubles. He set about on a mission to win Eurovision once again, participating with his own composition, Hold Me Now, in 1987. Johnny Logan made history in Brussels that year when he became the only singer to win the contest twice as a singer, a record he still holds. Since Udo Jürgens won the contest for Austria in 1966 Logan had been the only male soloist to win the contest in 1980, and then he did it again in 1987. 

Hold Me Now was a massive hit that topped the European charts after the contest, eventually peaking at #5 in the World Chart in June. It was also voted as the third favourite song from the Eurovision Song Contest in the 50th Anniversary show, Congratulations, in 2005. And it's also at #5 in our Top 10.  The contest was held in Dublin in 1988 with RTE producing a ground-breaking show which saw a computerised scoreboard and videowall used for the very first time.

The rise of the Celtic Tiger

The 1990s were Ireland’s golden era in the Eurovision Song Contest, where the country won the competition four times in five years, a record no country has come close to beating since. 

The decade started strongly when Ireland sent the lead singer of one of Ireland's top bands, Bagatelle, Liam Reilly, who performed Somewhere In Europe. Performing at the piano, the song wasn’t unlike something that Elton John would have recorded. In a year when anthemic, continental-themed songs proved very successful, Reilly scored well. Ireland led the voting for quite some time until Italy’s call for European unity, in the form of Insieme:1992, performed by Toto Cutugno, triumphed and took trophy for the country for the first time since 1964. Liam Reilly’s Somewhere In Europe is somewhere in our Top 10, at #9 to be precise.    

Why Me? Well, why not?

In 1992 Johnny Logan teamed up with Linda Martin once again, writing her second Eurovision entry, Why Me? Like Dana did in 1970, Ireland beat the United Kingdom into second place once again and both Linda and Johnny emerged triumphant in Malmö. 

Linda Martin became one of the few acts to have finished second but returned to win, the other being Russia’s Dima Bilan. The success of Why Me? is even more impressive given that Logan won Eurovision in 1980 singing a song written by someone else, won in 1987 singing his own song and won in 1992 with someone else singing his song! Why Me? is at #4 in our list. The don’t call him Mr Eurovision for nothing!

When Irish eyes are smiling

By this point, Ireland had amassed no less than four victories and in 1993 broadcaster RTE decided to host the contest in a unique location; Millstreet, County Cork with a population of just 1,500 people. It was to date, and remains, the smallest setting to have staged the Eurovision Song Contest. 

With strong support from the local audience, Millstreet was the perfect place to achieve the fifth Irish win, and lead the winners' table, thanks to Niamh Kavanagh and her song In Your Eyes. The road to victory wasn’t smooth, despite the final 23 point lead over the UK. The result went right down to the wire and the final jury to be called, Malta, ended up having the casting vote. 

Niamh Kavanagh returned to the contest in 2010, taking Ireland to the Grand Final for the first time since 2007. Her winner, In Your Eyes is #2 in our Top 10. 

Rock ‘n’ roll record breakers   

1994 is the year that Ireland broke new ground and smashed all the records. After national broadcaster RTE hosted the contest twice in succession (a record itself), Ireland went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest for the third time in a row. It was also the second win on home soil (another record) thanks to the song Rock'n'Roll Kids. The simple and beautiful ballad, which saw Paul Harrington on piano and and Charlie McGettigan on guitar, scored 226 points, the highest ever at that point, leaving Poland in a distant second place. 

1994 was also the year that launched Riverdance. The interval act brought the house down, transforming the image of Irish dancing and became an overnight sensation which still tours the world today. The sixth victory put Ireland at the top of the winners' table but there was more to come. 

The voice of Ireland

The 1995 Eurovision Song Contest took place in Dublin and saw Norway score its second win. Nocture, performed by Secret Garden, was a largely instrumental number featuring Irish-born Fionnuala Sherry on violin. Technically the Irish could claim this as another victory. 

The 1995 result meant that the Eurovision Song Contest moved to Oslo in 1996 where Eimear Quinn would take the trophy with The Voice. The song, which is at #3 in our Top 10, was written by Brendan Graham who also wrote Rock'n'Roll Kids. The contest returned to Dublin in 1997 where once again Ireland and the UK would do battle for the top two places. 

1997 is to date, the last time that Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. RTE staged four contests in five years, a record that no other country has matched and a record that they remain incredibly proud of.