Monday 26 February 2018

Flashback 1970: Dana secures Ireland's first Eurovision success

This week 46 years ago schoolgirl Rosemary Brown, better known as Dana, won the Eurovision song contest for Ireland

Winning performance: Dana in the sixth National Song Contest on March 21, 1970.
Winning performance: Dana in the sixth National Song Contest on March 21, 1970.

Ger Siggins

Rosemary Brown might have been an 18-year-old schoolgirl at Thornhill College in Derry when she won the National Song Contest in 1970, but she was by then an experienced and accomplished performer. She already had a recording contract with Decca and was an established name on the Dublin cabaret scene. She had even finished second to Muriel Day in the previous year's National Song Contest with her fourth single Look Around.

RTÉ's head of Light Entertainment, Tom McGrath, had invited Brown, by then known as Dana, to sing the following year as he felt one of the entered songs would suit her. All Kinds of Everything, written by a pair of Dublin printers, Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith, and arranged by Phil Coulter, was a twee ballad which listed the things that reminded the singer of her lover. "Snowdrops and daffodils, butterflies and bees," began the litany, which struck a chord and she won the contest to represent Ireland.

The Eurovision was just three weeks later, and there was a scare when she was injured when a car she was in with agent Tony Johnston and his wife hit ice at Slane, overturned and ended in a ditch. But their injuries were minor and she was able to fly to Amsterdam.

In a front page piece for the Irish Independent on the day of the contest, Melody Maker journalist Tony Wilson wrote "I predict that this year Ireland will be highly-placed in the Eurovision Song Contest taking place tonight. In fact, the 18-year-old Derry schoolgirl, Dana, has a reasonably good chance of winning. Almost everyone has told me there will be a swing away from Lulu's old-style winners Boom Bang a Bang and the Spanish La La La."

Dana sang last, perched on a stool and wearing a white mini-dress. In front of 400 million viewers in 25 countries, she sang her ankle socks off and her 32 votes were seven more than UK representative Mary Hopkin, who had already had a No.1 hit worldwide with Those Were the Days. Also trailing in behind was Spain's Julio Iglesias, who has since sold 300 million records.

'I CAN'T BELIEVE IT, SAYS DANA' ran the lead headline in the next day's Sunday Independent, with her mother Susan, saying "it couldn't have happened to a nicer daughter." Her father, Robert, was just as delighted as he had £10 on Dana to win at 10/1.

The front page of Monday's Irish Independent showed manager Tony Johnston air-kissing his client, and told how "Aer Lingus last night cut through international and military red tape to lay on a special VIP Jet flight for Dana today from Amsterdam to Ballykelly air force base, Derry, via Dublin."

After singing her winning song on the steps of the plane, she was taken the 15 miles into Derry, and carried shoulder-high through streets lit by bonfires. Irish Independent reporter Frank A Byrne estimated 5,000 people gathered outside the Guildhall to greet the girl from Rossville Flats, and told how both Bishops of Derry were present and hoped her success might unite the city.

The song was No.1 in Ireland, the UK and Singapore and sold two million copies. She had several minor hits through the 1970s, and an Irish No.1 with Totus Tuus, inspired by the 1979 visit of the Pope. That set her off in a new direction and she became popular on the American Christian music scene.

Having lived in the US for several years, she stood for the Irish presidency in 1997, winning 175,000 votes, and two years later won a seat in the European Parliament for Connacht-Ulster on an ultra-conservative platform. After losing that seat she joined the fray in the fractious 2011 Presidential election campaign when she finished sixth of seven candidates with 51,000 votes. She now lives in Co Galway.

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