Thursday 22 February 2018

Ireland always No.1 for the Fab Four

The Beatles
arrive at Dublin Airport
The Beatles arrive at Dublin Airport
Ed Power

Ed Power

It's a half-century since The Beatles released their first chart topper. Ed Power looks at their love affair with the Emerald Isle

It was 50 years ago today . . . that The Beatles released their very first single, 'Love Me Do'. Four scrappy ragamuffins from deepest Merseyside, within a few months they were global superstars, unable to venture out in public without being mobbed and mauled by hysterical fans.

A half-century on, the anniversary will be marked in Liverpool as thousands gather at Albert Dock for a tilt at the Guinness World Record for biggest mass singalong.

The origins of 'Love Me Do' go back to the late 50s, when Paul McCartney was still at school. Or at least he was supposed to be.

An errant student, he wrote the song while playing truant at age 16. Later, John Lennon added the middle section, as well as that lilting 'dockside' harmonica.

Three different versions of 'Love Me Do' were recorded,the first using original drummer Pete Best. For the second session, Ringo Star manned the drumkit.

The rest, truly, is rock-and-roll history, as the single duly went into the top 20 in Britain and, two years later, was a smash all over again in the US.

One aspect of the Beatles story that is not well examined is their long-standing relationship with Ireland.

As with any average Merseysider, several of the band can claim at least some Irish roots and their love of the country was long-standing and heartfelt.

It's a love affair that continues to this day. Paul McCartney is a regular visitor and has been spotted taking contemplative walks in St Stephen's Green, all alone except for his thoughts and the pigeons.

He has also performed two recent sell-out shows here, in 2009 and 2010, staying on stage for nearly three hours on both occasions.

Here, then, is a roll-call of the more interesting Beatles connections to the 'old sod'.

George Harrison's family roots go back to Wexford. His grandfather on his mother's side was from near Enniscorthy and emigrated to Liverpool in the late 19th Century where he joined the police.

Harrison had relatives in Drumcondra and, in his childhood, visited Dublin with his mother on many occasions. Some of his fondest childhood memories, he later said, were of walking on Malahide beach.

Indeed Dublin was the city with which he was most familiar after Liverpool. It was to Drumcondra the band went after their famous brace of gigs at the Adelphi in Dublin in November 1963, their only ever dates in the Republic.

John and Paul also have Irish ancestry. Lennon's grandfather Jack was born in Dublin in 1858 and met his Irish wife Mary in Liverpool. Lennon's burgeoning interest in his Irish heritage was what prompted him to christen his second son Sean.

Visiting Dublin this summer, Lennon's widow Yoko Ono attested to his love for Ireland. "My husband was 100pc Irish. That's what he used to say. Ireland was sort of like an auntie or a mother that he wanted to show me".

Macca can trace his Celtic heritage to his maternal grandfather and his paternal great-grandfather.

On his mother's side, the family origins go back to Monaghan so it was perhaps not a coincidence that when he married Heather Mills in 2002 it was at Castle Leslie at Glaslough, several miles from Monaghan Town.

In 1963, the Beatles visited Clare and John Lennon was filmed staring over the Cliffs of Moher.

The footage later appeared in the Martin Scorsese documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World.

On the same trek they stopped off at Doolin: there is a tale than John Lennon and George Harrison were set to play an impromptu show in McHugh's bar only to be shushed by the lady of the house.

It was, she said, too early for the 'tourists' to be singing. They are also supposed to have bought a pair of boots from Walls of Ennistymon, the shop belonging to the parents of Joe and Steve Walls of The Stunning.

It was around the same time that John and George, accompanied by Lennon's then wife Cynthia and George's girlfriend Pattie Boyd, holed up at Dromoland Castle, again in Clare.

The trip was meant to be hush hush. They found out just how unsuccessful they had been when, the morning after their arrival, they pulled back the curtains, and saw dozens of journalists.

Never ones to shy from the spotlight John and George duly hammed it up for the press, mock-fighting on the lawn with antique swords and pulling funny faces as they played croquet.

However they were protective of their companions, wishing to kept them out of the spotlight. Boyd and Cynthia Lennon were smuggled to the airport in a clothes basket placed in a laundry van.

Similar steps had to be taken when the band tried to flee the scene of their Adelphi concerts that year.

With thousands of punters milling outside and real fears of a riot, The Beatles ducked into an Evening Herald delivery van and were whisked off to their hotel, The Gresham.

In the weeks leading up to the gigs, Dublin was gripped by an obsession with everything Beatles-related.

Such was the volume of young men asking their barber for a 'Beatles cut' the price of such a style went up across the city.

On the night of the performances 50 extra gardaí were drafted, in case things got out of hand. The Beatles touched down on a Thursday, accompanied by playwright Alun Owen.

He had come to Ireland to take notes on the band's touring regime, with the aim of writing a script about everyday life as a Beatle. It would later be filmed as A Hard Day's Night.

Two concerts had been scheduled at the Abbey Street venue (today an Arnott's carpark), one at 6.30pm, one at 9pm.

Such was the volume of punters, the crowd exiting the first show were caught up with those queuing for the second and matters got out of hand.

At least one car was overturned and a taxi driver hauled from his cab. Fire engines tried to calm the mob by sounding their bells.

In 1967, John Lennon purchased Dorinish Island, an inhabited lump in Clew Bay, Co Mayo. He paid £1,700 and would retreat there with his wife Cynthia when the pressure of life as a Beatle grew too much. He stopped visiting after their divorce and Dorinish felt into disuse.

In 1970, Lennon invited 'King of the Hippies' Sid Rawle to set up a commune and Rawle and 25 followers duly moved in. In 1972, part of their camp burned down and they quit Dorinish. Following Lennon's death in 1980, Yoko Ono sold the island for £30,000, donating the proceeds to an orphanage.

The Beatles rarely wrote overtly political songs. So it was a surprise when, following the band's demise, McCartney went on to pen 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish'.

Said to have been in response to Bloody Sunday in Derry, the track was banned in the UK but reached number one here.

"From our point of view, it was the first time people questioned what we were doing in Ireland," McCartney later recalled.

"It was so shocking. I wrote 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish', we recorded it and I was promptly phoned by the chairman of EMI, Joseph Lockwood, explaining that they wouldn't release it. He thought it was too inflammatory.

"I told him that I felt strongly about it and they had to release it. He said, 'Well it'll be banned,' and of course it was."

Irish Independent

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