Why my douze points never went to Dana
All kinds of everything and nothing about Eurovision
When Dana took to the stage to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam in 1970, she wore a pretty white dress with a Celtic design embroidered into the fabric. She had a wee white hair slide to punctuate her side parting and little white shoes on her schoolgirl feet. She perched on a precarious stool, knees crossed, head demurely tilted, and sang a tuneful, if staggeringly innocuous, ballad about everything and nothing.
The audience of tuxedoed men and back-combed ladies gave her an enthusiastic reception and the Derry schoolgirl broke virgin territory by securing Ireland’s first Eurovision victory.
O dances, romances, o wishing wells and wedding bells, o chastity belts and red-headed Celts, o wimples and dimples, o bishops in frocks and Savile in socks and industrial schools and unionist rules and bloodied hankies and hanky-panky, o illegal johnnies and the Two Ronnies , o pro-life campaigners and traffic-cop profaners. O grey skies or blue, o holy divine cow, doesn’t it feel like we have lived a thousand lifetimes since a pretty little gap-toothed chanteuse brought home the silverware to this hungry Republic?
I was eight years old when Dana snatched victory from the likes of Julio Iglesias and Mary Hopkin. Man, it was big news, almost as thrilling as those bouncy little men landing on the moon who looked like they were swathed in mashed potato. This called for another Mi Wadi!
I remember the continuity announcer on RTÉ, in a lather of well-modulated excitement, deviating from her script after the win to tell the agog nation that during the dress rehearsal the singer hadn’t faltered when some sweating techie had run on to the stage to adjust her perch. Such, the continuity announcer seemed to imply, was Dana’s innate poise, such was her simple modest conviction, such was her unshakable goodness, that she didn’t lose a single note.
I vainly practised singing All Kinds of Everything , holding my hairbrush in front of my mouth and getting on and off the kitchen stool without faltering, for many hours. But more disturbing than my croaky vocals and lack of composure was a niggling fear, one that I couldn’t have articulated at the time, that Dana’s victory was a slap in the kisser for not too terribly good girls everywhere. She was just too pure, too sweet, too shagging flawless, and who was the “you” anyway? All Kinds of Everything were reminding her of someone . . . The cat? Her granny? Baby Jesus? A pimpled bloke in an ice-cream van? The lyrics were about as piquant as a soft-boiled egg and Dana was as inscrutable as its freckled shell.
Within days of Dana’s humble romp to victory we convent girls were belting out her song around the May altar, making spring friezes of snowdrops and daffodils out of cottonwool balls and egg cartons, and dancing around the hall in our elastic-strapped ballet shoes.
I was jigging around with the best of them, but secretly I nurtured a subversive preference for Britain’s Eurovision entry that year.
Dressed in floor-length glittery black, Mary Hopkin was living on the edge; in her song Knock Knock Who’s There? , her door was always open wide and she didn’t seem particularly bothered who was going to take off their coat and come inside. Oh, those pagan Brits.
I wonder what Dana said about us as a nation in 1970? We girls were growing up, learning how to spell delicatessen, learning to toddle in our platform shoes; soon we’d be looking to drink pints in public and end the marriage ban. Maybe Dana, at the tender age of 18, was already trading in wistful nostalgia.
So what did Ryan Dolan and his glistening, bodhrán-bashing supporting performers reveal about us in this year’s contest? Well . . . Ryan has lovely teeth, and the chaps with the paps looked awfully well in leatherette, and it all seemed like good clean-ish fun.
But maybe our European neighbours are just a bit tired of our thrusting rhythms and Celtic tattoos; maybe they are growing weary of the beat of our pigskin drums and the defiant crescendo of our dancing shoes.
Maybe next year, if we make it to Copenhagen, we should abandon bullish confidence, ditch the shiny boyos and their inky biceps, and instead unearth a maiden in Aran knee-socks to knock out a good old ballad about how you could fry an egg on the stones if you had an egg.
Maybe we should plump for the sympathy vote. Or maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. As my 11-year-old son, entirely indifferent to the whole spectacle remarked, it’s probably cooler to come last – we may not get so lucky again.