Northern Irish Artists at Eurovision
Words by Ford Carter and Alyce Collett
Although Northern Ireland doesn't compete as its own nation at the Eurovision Song Contest, many artists from there have graced the Eurovision stage over the years.
They also have a pretty impressive record including a couple of winners and numerous Top 10s. Take a look:
Ronnie Carroll (United Kingdom 1962 & 1963)
Final Result: 4th & 4th
Ronnie Carroll, born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, represented the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1962 with the song ‘Ring-a-Ding Girl’ and in 1963 with the song ‘Say Wonderful Things’. He is the first artist from Northern Ireland to ever appear on the Eurovision stage.
Carroll was the first artist to represent the United Kingdom multiple times, and is to date the only artist to represent the country in consecutive years. Prior to his two appearances in Luxembourg and London, Carroll had attempted to represent the United Kingdom at the contest once before, taking part in the national final in 1960 with ‘Girl with a Curl’.
After taking part in Eurovision, Carroll worked on cruise ships, including the QE2, and began a career in politics, where he attempted to enter record books by receiving no votes during a 2008 by-election. 29 people voted for him.
Muriel Day (Ireland 1969)
Final Result: 7th
Next up is Muriel Day, born in Newtownards in Northern Ireland, who represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969 with the song ‘The Wages of Love’.
Day was the first singer from Northern Ireland to represent the Republic of Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest, and was also the first woman to perform for Ireland as well. Day and her backing singers, the Lindsays, secured Ireland their fifth consecutive top 10 finish.
Day moved to Canada in 1971, where she eventually became a laser therapist. In the 1990s, she returned to Belfast, where she has been performing regularly since.
Dana (Ireland 1970)
Final Result: 1st
Ireland's first Eurovision winner (and the first winner from Northern Ireland), Dana, was born in London in England but living in Derry in Northern Ireland at the time, and represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 with the song ‘All Kinds of Everything’.
Although Dana was Ireland’s first winner, she almost didn’t represent the country, as she had originally intended on quitting a career in music just six months beforehand. Her journey to winning on the night was filled with many obstacles, including the Irish national final being delayed by three weeks due to a strike by technicians at RTÉ and the powerhouse UK entry, Mary Hopkin’s ‘Knock, Knock Who’s There’ being the heavy favourite to win on the night.
In the 1990’s, Dana became a political figure, running as an independent in the 1997 Irish presidential election, where she came third behind eventual winner Mary McAleese. In 1999, she ran as an independent again, becoming a Member of the European Parliament, representing the seat of Connacht-Ulster, which she held for five years. She took a conservative political stance, campaigning on family values.
At the moment, Dana and her husband, Damien, are currently quarantining with her daughter, Grace, who just so happens to live in Canberra. Her son, John James, lives in Sydney. Through an internet connection at her daughter’s home, Dana has been able to contribute to the Eurovision community following the cancellation of the 2020 contest through podcasts and broadcasts around the world from Australia, fifty years on from her Eurovision win.
Clodagh Rogers (United Kingdom 1971)
Final Result: 4th
Clodagh Rogers, born in Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland, represented the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1971 with the song ‘Jack in the Box’.
According to Eurovision historian John Kennedy O’Connor’s book ‘The Eurovision Song Contest – The Official History’, part of the reason the BBC invited Rogers to represent them in Dublin was their concern over the reaction the British entrant would get on the stage from the Irish public.
Prior to her performance, Rogers received death threats from the IRA, who considered her a traitor as a Catholic Northern Irishwoman representing the United Kingdom.
Rogers is well-known for appearing in many television and stage productions since her Eurovision performance. She retired from the music business in 2015.
Linda Martin (Ireland 1984 & 1992)
Final Result: 2nd & 1st
The second two-time Northern Irish Eurovision contestant, and second Northern Irish Eurovision winner, Linda Martin, was born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest twice.
She first appeared in 1984 with the song ‘Terminal 3’ and then in 1992 with the song ‘Why Me?’. Both of these songs were written by Australian-born and two-time Eurovision winner, Johnny Logan.
‘Terminal 3’ came second in Luxembourg, beaten out of the winning position by the Herrey's from Sweden. The main line of the song, “Terminal Three: flight’s on time”, Logan admitted to having written simply because he was in Terminal Three of Heathrow airport at the time he was writing the song.
‘Why Me?’ came first in Malmö, beating Michael Ball from the United Kingdom, who was the hot favourite to win the contest. The song started Ireland’s chain of wins throughout the 1990’s, where they won the contest four times in five years, including three consecutive wins in a row.
Linda Martin took part in the Irish national final nine times in sixteen years, whether as a member of the band Chips (in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1982), as Linda Martin and Friends (in 1990), or as a solo artist (in 1984, 1986, 1989 and 1992).
Luv Bug (Ireland 1986)
Final Result: 4th
The first group from Northern Ireland to compete at the contest, Luv Bug, originated from Newry in Northern Ireland, and represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1986 with the song ‘You Can Count on Me’.
Luv Bug began as an amateur teen band in 1977, where they played local gigs. They became professionals under the management of Michael Magill in 1982, and became a successful live act around Ireland. In 1986, they competed in the National Song Contest, winning on the night.
As a group, Luv Bug competed in Eurosong 1992 (the updated format of the National Song Contest), with the song ‘Close to Your Heart’, but didn't take out the title. They still continue as a group today, mainly performing live throughout Ireland.
Eddie Friel (Ireland 1995)
Final Result: 14th
Eddie Friel, born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995 with the song ‘Dreamin’.
‘Dreamin’ broke Ireland’s run of successive Eurovision wins throughout the 1990’s, essentially saving the Irish national broadcaster from financial issues (RTÉ had acknowledged that if they won the contest for a fourth consecutive time, they would not be capable of hosting the contest the next year).
Friel started his musical career as a music teacher after graduating with honours in music. He then decided to follow his talents as a musician and composer, and toured with Van Morrison as a piano player.
The Mullans (Ireland 1999)
Final Result: 17th
Bronagh and Karen Mullan together form the sister act duo The Mullans. From Belfast in Northern Ireland, they represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1999 with the song ‘When You Need Me’.
The Mullans were the first act chosen by the Irish public, whose votes were then divided regionally into seven parts. The voting system used for the national final was modelled on the voting system used in the Eurovision Song Contest at the time.
Bronagh and Karen are classically trained musicians who studied piano, violin and clarinet at the Belfast School of Music.
Brian Kennedy (Ireland 2006)
Final Result: 10th
Seven years later, Ireland chose another Northern Irish artist for the stage. Brian Kennedy, born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 with the song ‘Every Song Is a Cry for Love’.
When Kennedy took to the Eurovision stage in the semi final in Athens in 2006, it marked the performance of the 1,000th Eurovision song. The song qualified for the Grand Final, where it finished tenth, giving Ireland an automatic berth to the final in Helsinki in 2007.
‘Every Song Is a Cry for Love’ peaked at number 4 on the Irish singles chart.
Ryan Dolan (Ireland 2013)
Final Result: 26th
Last but not least, Ryan Dolan, born in Strabane in Northern Ireland, represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013 with the song 'Only Love Survives'.
In 2014, Dolan came out as gay during an interview on RTÉ Radio 1. His announcement was followed by his first single since his Eurovision performance, 'Start Again', and its accompanying music video, which has been watched more than a million times on YouTube.
Dolan has gone on to perform at some pride festivals, release a third single, release covers of other songs, and take part in the Irish jury at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015.
Fionnuala Sweeney (Ireland 1993)
Host of Millstreet 1993
Northern Ireland hasn’t only had representation at the Eurovision Song Contest through the form of singers. Irish anchorwoman and reporter Fionnuala Sweeney took on the role as the host of the show when it was hosted in Millstreet in 1993.
Sweeney was born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and moved to Dublin at the age of 12. She anchored and reported from Haifa during the Israel-Hezbollah War for CNN, for which they received an Edward R Murrow Award, and was a part of the news team that won an Emmy at the 33rd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards for the 2011 broadcast of Egyptian President Mubarak’s resignation. The coverage also won CNN a Peabody Award.
So congratulations to those Northern Irish artists who have represented either Ireland or the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest!