I am not often reduced to stunned silence when I learn new bits of unique modern Irish culture. After nearly a year in Ireland, I think I have a pretty good basic understanding of the people here. I know the correct names for everyday items, I know where political protests take place in the city, and I know where all the rich businesspeople go to buy illegal unlabeled tobacco and cigarettes on their lunch breaks.
Earlier this Spring, I was shocked to hear of the nationwide enthusiasm for an aging and largely irrelevant country music star who would be coming to do a show at Croke Park in Dublin, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association events of hurling, camogie (women's hurling), and Gaelic football.
Garth Brooks, nineties country music sensation, announced his concert dates. The nation went bonkers. When the news first broke, radio reporters got to work interviewing people standing in ticket lines for hours or days. Many of them gushed about how much they loved Gareth Brooks. Gareth is a common British/Irish name, so the confusion is not totally unexpected. Also, most Irish accents don't use much of the American sound for "ahr," so even when radio announcers corrected the pronunciation, it was from Gareth to Goth. Goth Brooks. Pretty funny stuff, although I can't imagine an American newsperson correctly pronouncing a name like Oisín, so we'll call it even.
Wait. Garth Brooks? Doesn't Dublin have a concert venue (The O2) that brings in famous performers old and new on a regular basis? Why did they go so gaga over this one particular musician? And the Irish people like American country music? The stuff about dogs and trucks and trains and tears in beers and achey-breaky hearts? The stuff about standing by your man and working nine to five and fighting wars in the Middle East? What do the Irish know (or care) about these American themes?
Apparently, they care a lot. The show sold out in minutes, or seconds. 80,000-plus tickets- gone. So, they did what any smart concert promoter would do. They added another show the next night.
Until five sold-out shows were scheduled on back-to-back nights this summer.
Croker holds officially 82,300. After five nights, that makes 411,500 paid attendance. Ireland's population is listed at 6,469,688. Some quick math tells us that just over six percent of the population of Ireland will be crowding the park over what will be a very exciting week this summer. Of course, not all of these people will be actual Republic of Ireland residents, but this is still a staggering figure given the current status of Brooks' career.
Which brings us to the inevitable controversy. Croke Park is located in the middle of a residential area on Dublin's north side. Big events draw big crowds, and big crowds cause problems for neighborhoods. Naturally, the local residents are none too happy about these five upcoming nights, and it turns out that they may be able to get some or all of the shows cancelled (!)
Under an agreement made when Croke Park was being renovated, they promised to have no more than three special events/concerts at the park per year. It just so happens that the popular boy band One Direction played three shows at Croke Park earlier this Spring, thus using up all three events granted under this agreement.
Action is being delayed as Dublin City Council considers the license application by the concert promoters for the five events. That's right, the concert promoters have apparently sold out all of these tickets before the event was granted a license by the city council! It's a complex story involving a lot of players, difficult political and legal battles, and lots (and lots and lots) of money.
A decision from the council on the concert applications is expected soon. If they do approve the concerts, the Croke Park community groups will no doubt counter with political and legal pressure. This story is amazing and hilarious for me, an outsider who lives miles from Croke Park, but it is a serious issue for those living and working in those neighborhoods. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.
...And all this fuss over Garth Brooks?