How stadium gigs saved Páirc Uí Chaoimh and kept Cork GAA afloat

Croke Park may be counting the cost of losing Garth Brooks’ gigs, and the massive cash injection of sellout concerts that once proved the salvation of Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which shuts this weekend for a massive €70m redevelopment.

Sunday’s Munster hurling final between Cork and Limerick is the final provincial GAA decider at the stadium which reopened in a blaze of publicity back in 1976. But leading GAA officials admit the weight of bank borrowing and interest payments at the time almost sunk Cork GAA.

“We weren’t solvent at one point,” Cork GAA secretary Frank Murphy admits in a special commemorative magazine on Páirc Uí Chaoimh, published with tomorrow’s Irish Examiner. “In one instance our bank interest commitment for the year exceeded our entire income from our county championships by £35,000. In 1980 alone, the amount of interest to the bank was £170,995.”

“From February to June 1976, the year the stadium reopened, the board engaged in major bank borrowing at an interest rate of 12¾%. But within three years, the rate had jumped to 20%, resulting in an extra £18,000 in charges.”

However within two years, the sweet music of Siamsa Cois Laoi, the brainchild of promoter Oliver Barry, had helped steady the ship.

“That time there were musical festivals around Ireland, like Lisdoonvarna, but those tended to be held in fields near towns and so on, open venues, so clearly in a stadium you had more comfort, there was seating and probably a better view of the acts on stage,” said Mr Barry.

“I’d say what we were doing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that time were among the first stadium gigs in Ireland.”

A decade later, Cork GAA and Páirc Uí Chaoimh was still reaping the rewards of concerts — this time by some of the world’s biggest acts like Prince, Michael Jackson and U2.

“What helped hugely that time was having U2 play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They were a huge band and they put the venue on the map in terms of international tours — because they’d played there, then someone like Michael Jackson would have no problem playing there,” said Mr Barry.

He added: “The proceeds of Michael Jackson’s concert provided us with the most of the money to purchase Flower Lodge (now Páirc Uí Rinn) without the necessity of bank borrowing.”


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