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Recalling when one brave little town decided to host Ireland’s first rock festival

Saturday, 2nd July, 2016 7:15am

Story by Con Downing
Recalling when one brave little town decided to host Ireland’s first rock festival

Rory Gallagher in action on the Mountain Dew stage. (Photo: Herman Kemp)

THE publication of Roz Crowley’s highly entertaining book on the history of the fabled Macroom Mountain Dew Festival has evoked a flood of memories of a pioneering era in staging concerts, which paved the way for the big open air events we take for granted today. 

Having taken the first tentative steps in 1976 with a hugely-successful Marianne Faithfull concert in the Macroom Mountain Dew Festival dome, at the time she was making a successful comeback with Dreamin’ my Dreams, the organisers got even more ambitious the following year and secured Rory Gallagher for the country’s first big open air concert at the Castle Grounds in Macroom. 

Its organisation was spearheaded by publican and undertaker John Martin Fitz-Gerald, who approached Rory Gallagher’s brother and manager, Donal, about staging the open air concert. When some of the country’s biggest promoters refused to get involved because they considered it too much of a financial risk, the Gallaghers and the very much community-based Macroom committee took on staging it as the centerpiece of their week-long festival.

Many people thought they were mad to do so in a small country town of 3,000 inhabitants, but the critics were silenced when Rory’s first concert in 1977 drew 20,000 people and put Macroom – which was in the throes of a deep recession at the time – firmly on the map. The festival instantly became the stuff of legend and, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, other festivals got in on the act, such as Lisdoonvarna, Leixlip and Ballisodare, and capitalised on Macroom’s success, eventually edging it out after a disappointing loss-making two-day event in the grounds of Coolcower House in 1982, headlined by Phil Lynott, who was not the same draw as a solo act as he had been with Thin Lizzy.

Having covered all seven Mountain Dew Festivals, I always felt that the event had not heretofore been granted the elevated status it merits, given that the organisers showed the courage of their convictions in taking on such a mammoth undertaking and its associated financial risks. The book, Macroom Mountain Dew – Memories of Ireland’s First Rock Festival, rectifies this and tells the story well for posterity, encapsulating most of the fun, the madness and the mayhem that was involved in organising it.

Poignantly, the launch at FitzGerald’s Bookshop in Macroom took place on the 21st anniversary of Rory’s death and Donal Gallagher was present for the launch, which was wittily carried off by Don Hall, son of the late Frank, who officially opened the first festival 40 years ago this month. It was great to meet many of those associated with the festival over the years as we all basked for a few hours in the nostalgic glow of those much more innocent times.

Macroom Mountain Dew – Ireland’s first rock festival’ by Roz Crowley, is published by Onstream press, priced €20. Available in good bookshops or at onstream.ie