It’s going to be a long time until we see massive crowds gathering again.
When will we see a packed Croker or Lansdowne? When will we stand packed like sardines at a gig – a big one in Kilmainham or Marley or something more intimate in Whelan’s or th Academy?
So I was thinking back on the biggest gatherings ever in Ireland and wondering what they might have been.
I remember well the massive PAYE protest in 1979. Hundreds of thousands walked down O’Connell Street to protest at the level of tax being paid by ordinary people. At the time, inflation was running wild at about 18 per cent and the mortgage rate was something similar. I wasn’t there. I was back in the story helping to put the story together for the Herald.
A year earlier, thousands marched in a futile effort to persuade the gobshites in Dublin City Council not to bulldoze the largest Viking site in Europe. A thousand years of history was scooped up by mechanical diggers and dumped in landfill. I was at that one!
And I was on the street in 1963 to see JFK parade through Dublin. I saw him once with a friend after we sneaked into town without permission. I had already glimpsed him when my father brought me to the Phoenix Park on the first day of the visit, I think, to see him arrive to meet Eamon deValera.
I didn’t attend any of Daniel O’Connell’s massive rallies and, old as I am, I don’t know anyone who did.
Nor was I at Michael Collins’ funeral which was attended by hundreds of thousands – as was the funeral of St Charles of Mount Argus some years earlier.
One of the largest crowds ever gathered in Ireland was, of course, in the GPO in April 1916.
I think it was from the week of executions that people suddenly began to claim they’d been there.
This cartoon from Dublin Opinion back in the sixties shows you how these spoofers were often exposed.
Right now, if you add all up the people who claimed they were there and throw in those who claim their grandfathers and grand uncles were there, I think the total is about 450,00.
That was passed out by the number who squeezed into the Adelphi Cinema on November 7 1963. That night, the Beatles played two gigs – and the total number who tell us they were there, adds up to 520,000.
Not quite as many as the number that stood on the terraces at Thomond Park in October 1978 when Munster beat the mighty All Blacks. Hard to visualise it now, but if everyone’s telling the truth, there were 600,000 people there that day.
Mind you over the last seven or eight months of 1979 some 1.2 million people visited the Dandelion Market on Stephen’s Green and saw a young band called U2 play there. Well, at least they say they did.
There was a much smaller crowd, only a quarter of a million or so on O’Connell Street, to welcome Barry McGuigan back after he became World Champion when he beat Eusebio Pedroza in 1985. Two years later, the same number turned out to welcome Stephen Roche back after his Tour de France victory.
Same number again, roughly, welcomed Jack Charlton’s team back from Euro ’88 after their win over England.
I’d guess a million or more turned out two years later to welcome the squad back after Italia ’90.
But wasn’t the biggest crowd ever the 1.25 million who packed into the Phoenix Park to see Pope John Paul II?
Don’t be silly.
The “experts” have re-examined that event.
And apparently, there were only 537 people there.