“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 Game” Christy was singin’ “Nancy Spain” Mary 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.
- Finbarr Harte was an Irish singer of country music. Country is actually pretty big in Ireland, a fact that my mother has sometimes lamented. ↩
- 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. ↩
- In Dublin slang, a mickey dodger is a nun. ↩
- 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. ↩