Raúl Bobé and Javier Aja
Millstreet, Ireland/London, May 16 (EFE).- When Noel C. Duggan dreamed of hosting the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest at the equestrian arena of his Irish hometown, Millstreet, many said he was “crazy”. But his drive and ambition helped put the tiny town on the map and, for one night, was the center of European music.
In an interview with Efe, the 89-year-old businessman remembers how the idea was born while watching the 1992 contest with his family and had a hunch that Ireland, and Linda Martin, were going to win Eurovision that night — and it came true.
He decided to send a letter to the Irish government and RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster, with a proposal to move the venue for Eurovision out of Dublin – which had already hosted it three times – to Millstreet, a “half-hidden” village in the southwest of the island that was looking for a rebirth after decades of emigration and poverty.
It took two months to receive a response. The same time it took to “stop laughing at such a ridiculous idea,” Duggan says.
While none of the locals themselves thought the feat was feasible, the entrepreneur “believed all the time” in the project and eventually convinced the rest of Millstreet’s “begrudgers with hold-fashioned ideas” that the town’s newly opened Green Glens Arena could indeed host Eurovision.
Duggan’s building was wide, but not tall enough to accommodate the “modernist” and “expensive” stage that RTE had commissioned. The whole plan was about to go down the drain.
Unable to raise the venue’s roof, Duggan came up with the alternative solution: to dig out the floor by a few feet so that the stage would be aligned with the seats.
For two-time Eurovision representative for Ireland, and winner in 1993, Niamh Kavanagh, explains to Efe that Millstreet was a “victory for everyone”, because it showed that it is possible to carry out a “fantastic and innovative” show in a very small, rural area.
Kavanagh says that the town and its surroundings were transformed for a week in to a “Eurovisionland” in a way that set it apart from other editions of the contest.
Millstreet, with just 1,500 inhabitants, was not able to accommodate the twenty-five participating delegations -a record at the time-, which had to be lodged in Killarney and other towns in County Kerry.
To get to Millstreet, Kavanagh says they had to travel 40 minutes by bus and, after the night of the final in which she won with “In Your Eyes”, they returned to the hotel sharing the vehicle with numerous fans, something that “wouldn’t have happened anywhere else”.
Irish journalist Fionnuala Sweeney also remembers “vividly” the evening of May 15, 1993, when at the age of 28 she took on the responsibility of presenting the Eurovision Song Contest alone, a show followed by more than 300 million people worldwide.
She tells Efe that she was “very nervous” during the ceremony, since the final dress rehearsal for the gala “was a disaster”, and she didn’t even dare to change her dress for fear of “ruining” things even more.
Voting is like the “holy grail” of Eurovision, according to Kavanagh, and Sweeney kept her fingers crossed that everything would go smoothly during the 1993 vote, and that all countries would respond on the other side of the line with their scores.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was going through a difficult war, made its Eurovision debut that year with one of the most tense moments of the gala.
“If there was one country that we thought we wouldn’t be able to literally connect, it was Bosnia and Herzegovina. And you could hear a pin drop (…) and for 30 seconds the whole audience was absolutely quiet and after we heard a crackle on the line and they said: Good evening. And it was just… fantastic to hear it,” says Sweeney.
Duggan, who describes himself as a “music lover”, was not fully able to enjoy the night until it came to an end, as he feared that if it rained leaks would pool on the venue’s stage.
“When the winner was announced, I jumped up and down and I think I even punched the prime minister,” laughs Duggan, who at the time thought, “Mission accomplished.” EFE