Garth Brooks fans at Croker: ‘The 400,000 people who bought tickets can’t be wrong’

‘I’d get more out of this than some religious services,’ says superfan Fr Brian D’Arcy

“I firmly believe that deep down inside everybody there is a Garth Brooks fan screaming to get out,” says Paul McKeever from Silverbridge, Co Armagh.

We are outside Croke Park’s Hogan Stand for the first of five history-making Garth Brooks concerts and I’m trying and failing to find the Brooks fan inside of me. “She’s in there, she definitely is,” Paul insists. She’s making more of a whimper than a bang at the moment, but it’s only 5pm and the evening is young.

“I mean, when you think about it, the 400,000 people who bought tickets for these five nights can’t be wrong,” says Paul. I take a risk. He seems like a reasonable guy.

Maybe a few of them are wrong? “Maybe 10 per cent,” he concurs. “But look there’s no point fighting it. You come in with me tonight and I guarantee you’ll be a Garth Brooks fan tomorrow.”


Paul is a superfan who saw Brooks in Dublin in 1994 and 1997, and would have seen him in 2014 if #Garthgate did not happened. He and his twin brother, Philip, flew to Arizona to see Brooks a couple of years ago for their 40th birthday. But even Paul has limits. He draws the line at some of the fashion on display.

“Some of them look like they fell off a horse,” he says, surveying the carry-on around Croker. It’s true that we’re witnessing an almost intimidating display of double-denim, stetsons and cowboy boots among the jubilant crowds.

Philip, world line dancing champion 2001, is dressed exactly like he fell off the horse he rode in on and makes no apologies about it. He’s here with his two daughters, Suzanne and Jessica.

“Garth is just pure class,” says Suzanne, who is 17. She and her sister were reared on a strict diet of country music.

“It was rammed down their throats,” says Philip, proudly. “In the car. In the house. Wherever they were, whether they liked it or not.”

The statistics tell the story: a third of the people in Monaghan bought tickets. About 100,000 people from Ulster will attend the gigs this weekend and next. The rural-urban divide highlighted by the percentage of tickets bought in Dublin — just 15 per cent — is stark.

“Who’s minding the farm?” a Dub on Jones Road shouted to nobody in particular, delighted with himself.

Sinead Johnson (20) and Shauna Healy (19) are friends from Wicklow. “We’re farmers, we’re from the sticks like, it’s just our culture,” says Sinead, explaining her Garth fandom. “We love the craic, the banter and the country music.”

“We’re a pair of boggers and proud of it,” says Shauna. “Our nights out would be sitting around listening to Garth on the speaker, having a few drinks and jiving. We go to lessons every Thursday night, a tenner in.”

Helen and Anthony Russell have come from Swansea in Wales. They say they’ve been chasing Brooks around the world for 23 years, never quite managing to see him in concert. Any tips about how to find your inner Garth Brooks fan?

“Just open your heart,” Helen says, adjusting her cream stetson around her bright red hair. “Listen to the music. Don’t be too quick to judge. Garth is brilliant because he always moves with the times.”

Mother and daughter, Sharon McNamara (56) and Taylor Corrigan (31), are from Edinburgh; the Scottish flag draped around their shoulders. “Garth’s music reminds me of my mum being happy,” says Taylor, a writer of literary fiction, who bought the tickets for her mother in 2014 and again for this latest run of gigs. “She had different songs she’d play as she cleaned the house and we knew her mood by the songs she played.”

“I didn’t know that,” says Sharon.

Someone who has no trouble finding his inner Garth Brooks fan is Fr Brian D’Arcy, who is standing outside the stadium waiting to join the rest of the faithful. What’s the appeal?

“Garth loves Ireland, he understands people, he’s a great marketing guy, he puts on a fabulous show and he knows what people like,” he says. The song he’s most looking forward to hearing is Unanswered Prayers.

Does he have unanswered prayers himself? “Of course,” he laughs. “I’m still single.”

These 400,000 people, singing and coming together united in Garth is, he says, “the most spiritual thing you can do … I wish we could do it in church, then we wouldn’t have empty churches. I’d get more out of this than some religious services.”

Róisín Ingle

Róisín Ingle

Róisín Ingle is an Irish Times columnist, feature writer and coproducer of the Irish Times Women's Podcast