The United Kingdom may not yet have announced the details of its Eurovision Song Contest entry but one of its regions already knows that it will be represented in Malmö. Not for the first time will Northern Ireland be cheering on someone from one of its six counties.
This year it’s Ryan Dolan who comes from Strabane in County Tyrone, just across the border from County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The town is also only 19 kilometres from the province’s second city, a place with even more Eurovision talent.
But back to the start.
As early as 1962 a Belfast man was chosen to sing for the United Kingdom. His name being Ronnie Carroll and he performed Ring-a-ding girl on the stage of the Villa Louvigny in Luxembourg, coming 4th. Ronnie’s Eurovision career didn’t end there as he went to the newly built BBC Television Centre the following year singing Say wonderful things, which also came 4th.
Only four more years go by before the next name is added to this not insignificant list of local participants. This time it’s Phil Coulter from Derry who co-wrote Puppet on a string in 1967 with Bill Martin. After only ten contests Northern Ireland already had a winner!
When the BBC hosted the following year’s contest in 1968, Phil was back. The same song writing duo had composed what became one of Eurovision’s biggest hits, Congratulations. It came 2nd but was much more commercially successful than the winning song.
By this time Ireland had been in the Eurovision family for four contests, having joined 1965. For the first time their performer was to come from ‘across the border’ and in 1969 Muriel Day, from Newtownards in County Down, performed in a short, bright green dress on the stage of the Teatro Real in Madrid. She sang The wages of love, attaining 7th place out of 16 entries.
Not leaving a gap of even one contest, in 1970 Rosemary Scallon aka Dana was invited by RTÉ to take part in their National selection and went to Amsterdam, fighting off 11 competitors to win. All kinds of everything was Northern Ireland’s second win in 4 contests. There were, in fact, two connections as Phil Coulter had heard the piece and re-arranged it for the contest.
Eurovision came from Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in 1971 so the UK entrant didn’t have far to travel. She also hailed from north of the border, being Clodagh Rodgers from Ballymena, County Antrim. Jack in the box achieved yet another 4th place.
Four seems to be a recurring number as that is how many years that passed before the next N.I. entry. The aforementioned Phil Coulter co-wrote Toi for his future wife Géraldine Brannigan in 1975. This wasn’t for Ireland or the UK but for Luxembourg which had approached him to write their song. The Contest was held in Stockholm and this time the result was to be a very respectable 5th place.
There followed the longest gap of nine years before the next contribution.
In 1984, after several attempts to get to Eurovision as a member of the group Chips, it was a solo Linda Martin from Omagh, County Tyrone who was successful in winning the Irish ticket and performing Terminal 3 on the stage of the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg. This wasn’t to be her winning year and Northern Ireland only achieved a 2nd place!
We miss a year out as the next locals to go to Eurovision for Ireland were a group called Luv Bug singing You can count on me. The members came from Newry, County Down and continued the very creditable placings, managing a 4th in Bergen in 1986.
Ireland’s fourth win came in 1992 when Linda Martin was, again, selected to represent the country, this time in Malmö singing Why Me? On her previous attempt she missed out by one place but this was time she won the Eurovision crown.
Eddie Friel, an Honours graduate in Music, was Belfast born. In the Irish National Final of 1995 he was chosen to go to the Point Theatre in Dublin. Luckily he had a short journey home as this song Dreamin’ took only 14th place. This was one of the few disappointing results in Northern Ireland’s ESC history.
It took a further year of absence before a local song-writer called John Farry, born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, penned Mysterious woman for Ireland. Marc Roberts performed the song in 1997 and faith in the contest was restored as it came 2nd.
The BBC hosted Eurovision in 1998. The National Indoor Arena was the venue. The writer for Ireland this year was Gerry Morgan from Newry, County Down and with Dawn Martin‘s vocals the song Is always over now? came 9th out of 25 entries. This was the last year of a live orchestra and the re-arranged song definitely benefited from the big production.
In 1999 the Contest was held in Jerusalem and two Belfast sisters, Bronagh and Karen Mullan were chosen by the Irish viewers. The song When you need me didn’t produce a good result as it came 17th out of 23 entries. Sometimes the luck of the Irish doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, the next year with a Northern Irish connection didn’t do any better. In 2001 Pat Sheridan was the local composer. With Gary O’Shaughnessy performing Without your love the result was even worse, ending up in 21st place, which was second last.
This almost brings us up to date as only twice more was there a connection to this part of the world. Brian Kennedy is a Belfast singer/songwriter and RTÉ asked him to sing 3 songs in their 2006 National Final. His own composition was called Every song is a cry for love and received 47% of the public’s votes. It was also the 1000th song to be performed at the Eurovision Song Contest and successfully qualified from the semi-final to come 10th in the Final.
In 17 years of entries this small region of 1¾ million people has a good track record. 14 have achieved a place in the top 10 with four 4th places, three 2nd places and three winning songs.
We are now up to date with Ryan Dolan from Strabane, Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland being both the Singer and Song Writer for Ireland in 2013. Let’s see how Only love survives fares in Malmö in the second half of the first semi-final on 14 May and hopefully in the final on 18 May.