On the 12th of May, Lisbon will be hosting the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest with Ryan O'Shaughnessy hoping to go the distance for Ireland. Dare we hope he could bring back the country's first win in 22 years? At this stage though, we'd be happy with getting to the final after five years of just missing out on it.
That was not the case back in the nineties however as we had Eurovision wins coming out of our you-know-wheres and it seemed Ireland had finally found something we were good at. Italia '90 it wasn't but when Ireland secured win after win - becoming (the still unbeaten) most successful country in the contest - it was hard not to join in on the sheer elation on the streets. We even produced River Dance in all our excitement.
In this special Eurovision series for entertainment.ie, we will be chatting to those singers who managed to bring home the gold for Ireland, and find out just what it really means to win the longest-running annual international TV song competition. Looking at how the competition has changed over the years and previous winners thoughts on Ireland's chances this year.
First up is Niamh Kavanagh, who claimed her place in the Eurovision history books back in 1993 with her show stopper "In Your Eyes". The then 25-year-old Niamh was known at the time for going from the bank to Eurovision but as she says herself below, she had been singing for some time before that, from her early days performing at family parties as a child to doing the lead and backing vocals on the film soundtrack for The Commitments.
Niamh also had the rare experience of winning at home, with the contest taking place in Mill Street in Cork following Linda Martin's win the previous year. It was a nail-biting victory too, with Ireland going neck and neck with the UK until the final score sealed her victory.
Niamh returned to the competition again in 2010 with the song "It's for You" securing Ireland a place in the final for the first time in four years. She may not have won, but Niamh still looks back as fondly on that year as she does on that glorious night in Mill Street back in 1993.
Hi Niamh, a basic one to start, but what did it feel like to win?
I’d say I have answered this more than once in the last 25 years but it never gets old to revisit that night in my heart. I will be honest when the final 12 came from Malta, there was jubilation all around me. My first thought was relief as it was such a close vote, my next thought was I have to sing again, am I still in one piece? As we headed back onto the stage and the entire audience was on its feet chanting Ole Ole Ole….I felt that this was everybody’s win; the Orchestra who had worked so hard, and all the crew involved who had practically lived in Millstreet for weeks; for Jimmy Walsh who wrote such a beautiful song and all the Irish delegation who were so amazing. It felt like we won as a country. I may have been the red haired face of the win, but truthfully it was so joyful to share in a moment that touched so many. I will admit I got the same buzz the second time I represented Ireland in 2010. But more on that in a later question.
Did you feel pressure to win given that Ireland had won the previous year?
I was in the best position ever entering this contest, because we had won the previous year. All I had to do was sing well. At that time it was not usual for countries to win consecutively, so I just had to perform well and do reasonably in the contest. I will be honest I don’t think the contest is all about the winning, although it is beautiful when it happens, I think it is all about being proud of what you do, and remembering when you perform well, you are doing that to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Surely that is not a bad thing at any time.
What impact did the win have on your career?
Well previous to Eurovision people knew my voice, from my work on such things as ads and of course The Commitments. I worked as a session singer for many years as well keeping down a day job in the Bank. I guess Eurovision put the face to the voice for the public, and as I often say, Eurovison is the gift that keeps on giving, because you are forever part of that history and I love that. It also allowed me to be signed by Arista Records in London and to record in Nashville, and to go on to do so many wonderful things over the last 25 years.
Did you feel the competition had changed much when you returned in 2010?
To return was not an easy decision, however I loved the song! I am as proud to have represented with “It’s for you” in 2010 as I was in 1993. I often say I was in 2 Eurovision’s I won one and I didn’t win the other. Truthfully the competition felt that same, with two exceptions. Firstly I missed the Orchestra, but it will always be my choice to perform with live musicians if at all possible, and secondly it was a week longer! The same camaraderie between the delegates and countries remained. The joy of sharing it with the fans and just the process. It was beautiful and tiring both times, but so much fun.
How do you feel about the Eurovision and winning when you look back at it now?
I will always be proud of being a part of Eurovision, I look back on all of my experiences with it fondly. I don’t live Eurovision all year, I do so many other things musically and otherwise, but I love that I can say, I was part of that.
Who is your favourite Eurovision winner of all time?
This is a difficult answer, I love Rock and Roll Kids as a song and as an experience for me. I was there with the wonderful Paul and Charlie and the lovely Brendan Graham, while they won, it was almost more exciting than my year because I could just enjoy with them.
What do you think of Ireland's chances this year?
I think this year we have a strong entry this year. I am delighted that Ryan is our representative and however we do I will be proud that this is our entry to be seen by hundreds of millions of viewers all over the world. They will see that we are a country of storytellers who are musical and creative, and at the end of the day isn’t that grand!
The Eurovision Contest takes places this Saturday, May 12th in Lisbon, with semi-finals this week.