Memories of Eurovision glory in a rural showjumping arena

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

The annual publication of State Papers 30 years on from the events that they refer to always makes for interesting reading, but increasingly it’s like that phenomenon you experience when you fall asleep during the Six One News and wake up during Reeling in the Years – and you can’t tell the difference.

There was a time when this archive seemed to throw up references to names from a distant past, but not anymore.

The State Papers from 1993 were peppered with people like Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring and John Bruton and the PDs and Ian Paisley and the peace process.

It was the year that President Mary Robinson met the Queen in Buckingham Palace – and it ended in the Downing Street Declaration that December.

But it was also the year that Eurovision came from a showjumping arena in a village that didn’t even have a single hotel.

What Millstreet – on the Cork and Kerry border – did have was a man called Noel C Duggan, owner of the Green Glens Arena, who offered RTÉ the venue for free and sweetened that with two hundred grand to help them stage it.

A lot of money, but a small slice of the actual cost because it transpired it cost RTÉ over £2m in addition to Noel C’s slice of generosity.

And funnily enough, the State broadcaster was also strapped for cash back then, but it wasn’t the result of profligacy as much as an unerring ability to keep winning the Eurovision every year.

We’d won the previous year with Linda Martin in Sweden and we were to go on and win the year after that in Dublin – the Riverdance year – with Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan; it was like we couldn’t avoid winning until we copped on years later and sent a turkey.

Millstreet was then home to 1,500 people and Noel C’s massive equestrian centre was already completely out of synch with its surroundings.

But he wanted to put the place on the map, and he’d already attracted the stars of the showjumping world there – so how much harder would be to stage the biggest song contest in the world?

A smarty-pants English journalist memorably asked Noel C how he’d managed to convince the organisers to host Eurovision in a cowshed. Noel replied that it was in fact a horse shed, and that was the end of that.


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