Beatlemania on the streets of Dublin

It’s 50 years since the Fab Four played their first and last Irish show at Dublin’s Adelphi Cinema. For those who were there, says Ed Power, it’s like Yesterday.

ON NOV 7 1963 Beatlemania hit Dublin like a tsunami. As 6pm approached, anyone negotiating the usually sedate thoroughfare of Abbey St would have been struck by the sight of thousands of teenagers spilled onto the road, blocking traffic. Around the corner on O’Connell St windows were smashed, a car overturned, and a terrified taxi driver was dragged from his vehicle. People fainted, scuffles broke out. Gardaí rushing to the scene were confounded by the uproar.

What could have prompted such an orgy of unrest? The answer was to be found at 98-101 Middle Abbey St, behind the worn facade of the Adelphi cinema. Today that address is home to a multi-storey carpark. Standing outside in the late autumn drizzle, doing your best to side-step the junkies and beggars who occasionally make their way from the nearby Luas stop, it is hard to imagine that, 50 years ago, it was, for a few dizzying hours, the centre of the rock ‘n’ roll universe.

The Beatles’ Adelphi shows — their first and last Irish performances — entered music folklore practically the moment the band unplugged their guitars and walked off stage.

Some 4,600 attended the 6.30pm and 9pm concerts, at which the group delivered their standard 10 song, 25 minute set, opening with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and finishing with ‘Twist and Shout.’ It wasn’t unheard of for major international acts to tour Ireland in the early 60s — the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees would also pass through in roughly the same period. Still, there was a sense that a visit from The Beatles was special. More than merely a pop group, they were already a phenomenon.

“Beatlemania was fairly new but a precedent was set by the time they came to Ireland,” says Shirley Chance, organiser of a festival marking the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Dublin shows. “It had started earlier in 1963 following the huge success of ‘Please Please Me.’ Hysterical, overwhelmed crowds had become associated with any appearance by the band by November. No-one quite knew what to expect in Ireland. An extra 50 civic guards had been drafted in and apparently more than 200 were on duty.

“It was chaos,” remembers Keith Cairns from Clontarf in Dublin, who attended the show as a wide-eyed 14-year-old. “The venue was one step above a musical hall. When the announcer called the names of The Beatles, pandemonium broke out. He said ‘John’ and the screams were so loud you couldn’t hear anything else. I think Paul may have told us to shut up at one point. It was that loud.”

“Girls who fainted in the crowds outside the theatre were carried into their seats by attendants,” wrote Record Mirror reporter Peter Jay, who accompanied The Beatles from London. “Outside there was the biggest riot yet. It’s a fact that cars were overturned and the police had to make several arrests. Inside it was incredible for noise and appreciation.”

“The Beatles had their funny collars and had the mop-top hair,” adds Cairns. “Looking back their hair wasn’t actually that long. However, we had never seen the likes of it. Our hair was so short back then we all looked like GI soldiers.”

Watching with a mixture of astonishment and slowly mounting horror was Adelphi manager Harry Lush. He would later paint a dramatic picture of the mania that descended upon Middle Abbey St.

“The Beatles finished their first show and the crowd shouted for more, more, more. They could not get off the stage, they had to stay put.

“By this time there were 2,304 people looking for encore after encore. Time marched on and the crowd outside gathered for the late show. The crowds met leaving and entering from Abbey St. I thought the doors of the Adelphi would collapse with the crowds, and the Hideout [venue] upstairs would come tumbling down. The police arrived to keep a kind of order. Fighting started because some wanted to get out and others clambered to get in. Cars were overturned and one car set on fire.

“I can also recall people on top of the roof taking photographs of the commotion below in Abbey St. The crowds spilled out into O’Connell St and windows were broken in Clerys, leaving a trail of damage on O’Connell St. We were at a loss for future shows. What would we do? We never thought they would be so popular.”

“Their last song was ‘Twist and Shout.’ After that, it went crazy,” says Cairns, who attended the 6.30 performance. “We were all trying to get out. You had another 2,300 trying to get in for the 9pm show. And you had another 3,000 people hanging around. I stepped onto the street and saw mayhem everywhere. Cars were on fire.

“There was a baton charge by the gardaí. There was a girl from Clontarf whom I had to accompany to the bus stop at the top of Abbey St because she worried it wasn’t safe.”

The Beatles may have had an inkling of what lay ahead as they touched down at Dublin Airport earlier that day and found thousands of teenagers waiting for them.

“On arrival to Dublin, they talked about their Irish roots in an interview with RTÉ’s Frank Hall,” says Shirley Chance. “John said, ‘Hey, listen, we’re all Irish’. George had spent summer holidays in Dublin as a child, with his mother’s cousins in Drumcondra. There’s a wonderful photo of him, aged about seven, taken by the famous street photographer Arthur Fields on O’Connell St. His mother Louise came over to see their Adelphi gig. He went to Drumcondra to visit with his cousins after the gigs.”

He probably felt lucky to have made it as far as the northside. Such was the after-show stampede, it became obvious the group couldn’t use any of the regular exits. They would be mobbed or worse. With concerns building that the sporadic violence outside would turn into something uglier, an escape plan was hatched: The Beatles would take a stairs to the adjoining headquarters of the Irish Independent group and from there into the back of a newspaper delivery van, which duly conveyed them to the Gresham Hotel.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first visit by The Beatles, who, with the exception of Ringo Starr, all had Irish roots. At the frenzied height of Beatlemania, John and George fled swinging Britain for what they had assumed would be the calm of rural Ireland. In spring 1963, they arrived in Doolin, Co Clare — there’s an apocryphal account of the pair, well into their cups at McHugh’s bar, trying to start an impromptu singsong only to be told to keep it down by the proprietress.

In scenes that could have come from their movie A Hard Days Night, the two later purchased boots from Walls of Ennistymon and repaired to Dromoland Castle, along with their significant others, Cynthia Lennon and Pattie Boyd.

Intending to enjoy some blissful respite from the temporary insanity they had inspired back in the UK, they were surprised to discover Beatlemania had followed them across the Irish sea. The morning after their arrival, they came down for breakfast to discover dozens of journalist camped outside.

Even on the edge of Europe there was no escaping what they had become.

Rather than hide, they gamely went outside and mucked about for the cameras. Whether they were actually enjoying themselves or pretending to for the media’s benefit is destined to remain a mystery. What is clear is that, before or since, Ireland had never witnessed anything like The Beatles in Ireland.

“I came home from the concert and my parents gave out to me for going,” remembers Cairns.

“My father told me ‘in a year there won’t be a word about them. They’ll be forgotten’. I told him he was wrong — which of course he was.”

“People who saw The Beatles talk about how nothing compared to the frenzy, whether seeing them at the airport, or waiting on the streets for a glimpse of them, or being one of the lucky ones who saw them perform in the Adelphi,” says Shirley Chance.

“Many commentators refer to The Beatles’ performances here as the start of a new youth culture in Ireland. Youth culture wasn’t a term that would have rolled off the tongue back then. The reaction to The Beatles proved that there were young people who were eager to grasp it. It wasn’t just girls. Young men and teenage boys had been keeping barber shops busy in the weeks leading up the gigs, getting Beatle haircuts; they had the boots, and the jackets, or wore their collars turned in if they couldn’t afford the jackets. Even those ‘long cut’ hairstyles were controversial in Ireland at the time, when a short back and sides was the norm.”

The Dublin Beatles Festival runs across Dublin from Nov 7 to Nov 10 and features performances of the band’s music and talks about their legacy. www.dublinbeatlesfestival.com


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