Lisdoonvarna — Irish History in Song

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“Lisdoonvarna” is Christy Moore’s wonderful song about the music festival that graced that small Clare town in the late 70s and early 80s. As the last lines attest, this was Irish music’s Woodstock, a tour de force of traditional Irish music from which reverberations are still felt today.

You can find “Lisdoonvarna” on Christy’s wonderful 1984 album Ride On. For a sampling of the music performed at the festival, check out Dónal Lunny’s Definitive Lisdoonvarna.

Oh, Lisdoonvarna!
Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoonvarna!

How’s it going there everybody
From Cork, New York, Dundalk, Gortahork and Glenamaddy
Here we are in the County Clare
It’s a long, long way from here to there
There’s The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher,
The Tulla and the Kilfenora,
Micho Russell, Doctor Bill,
Willie Clancy,  Noel Hill
Flutes and fiddles everywhere
If it’s music you want
You should go to Clare

Sure everybody needs a break
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake
Some head off to exotic places
Others go to the Galway Races
A cousin of mine goes potholing
A cousin of hers loves Joe Dolan
Mattie goes to the South of France
Jim to the dogs, Peter to the dance
Summer comes around each year
We go there and they come here
Some jet off to Frigiliana
But I always go to Lisdoonvarna

I always leave on a Thursday night
With me tent and me groundsheet rolled up tight
I like to hit Lisdoon
In around Friday afternoon
This gives me time to get me gear together
I don’t need to worry about the weather
Ramble in for a pint of stout
’Cause you’d never know who’d be hangin’ about
There’s a Dutchman playing a mandolin
And a German looking for Liam Óg O’Floinn
And there’s Adam, Bono and Garrett FitzGerald
Gettin’ their photos taken for the Sunday World
Finbarr1, Charlie and Jim Hand2
They’re drinkin’ pints to bait the band
Isn’t it grand!

The multitudes, they flocked in throngs
To hear the music and the songs
Motorbikes and Hiace vans
With bottles — barrels — flagons — cans.
Mighty craic! Loads of frolics
Pioneers and alcoholics
PLAC, SPUC and the FCÁ
Free Nicky Kelly and the IRA
Hairy chests and milk-white thighs
Mickey dodgers3 in disguise
McGraths, O’Briens, Pippins, Coxs4
Massage parlours in horseboxes
RTÉ are makin’ tapes
Takin’ breaks and throwin’ shapes
There’s amhráns,  bodhráns, amadáns
Arab sheiks, Hindu Sikhs, Jesus freaks
This is heaven, this is hell
Who cares? Who can tell?
Anyone for the last few Choc Ices now?

A 747 for Jackson Browne
They had to build a special runway just to get him down
Before The Chieftains could start to play
Seven creamy pints came out on a tray
Shergar was ridden by Lord Lucan
Seán Cannon did the backstage cookin’
Clannad were playin’ “Harry’s GameChristy was singin’ “Nancy SpainMary O’Hara and Brush Shields
Together doin’ the "Four Green Fields"
Van the Man and Emmylou
Moving Hearts and Planxty too!

Everybody needs a break
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake
Sean Doherty goes to The Rose of Tralee
Oliver J. Flanagan goes swimming in the Holy Sea
But I like the music and the open air
So every Summer I go to Clare
’Cause Woodstock, Knock nor the Feast of Cana
Can hold a match to Lisdoonvarna

Much like Woodstock, there was a modern revival of the festival in 2003, which for various reasons was actually held in Dublin, not Lisdoonvarna. The revival festival’s website had information on the previous years, but sadly lisdoonvarnafestival.com is now held by domain squatters — basically, there is virtually nothing Googleable about the original festival. Fortunately, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has a copy of the pages about 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983.

Erin rolled her eyes when I insisted on playing this song as we drove through Lisdoonvarna on our way from Barna to Doolin while on our honeymoon.

Notes

  1. Finbarr Harte was an Irish singer of country music. Country is actually pretty big in Ireland, a fact that my mother has sometimes lamented.
  2. Jim Hand was a band manager, who managed Dermot O’Brien and the Clubmen, The Capitol showband, and others. Dermot tells a funny story about him in this interview.
  3. In Dublin slang, a mickey dodger is a nun.
  4. Cox’s Orange Pippin is a type of English apple — I wonder if that contributed to Christy putting these two surnames next to each other.