When I was being crushed by a crowd of sweaty singing drunks under the Slane stage in 1987 to a soundtrack of David Bowie’s Absolute Beginners, I hadn’t a notion I’d be back one day shepherding three daughters as they went wild for a musical chameleon of their own.
But that’s as it was 37 years later and I found myself draped in the ultimate sign of the times - a moulting feather boa - with 80,000 people around me dancing all night to the best songs ever.
The crowd gathered for Harry’s house party could scarcely have been more different to the one that had stormed the castle last time Lord Henry Mountcharles threw open his gates in 2019 to let tens of thousands of Metallica fans in to bang their heads and pump their fists to raging metal.
This time it was more fluorescent and female and family-friendly.
As the day started, parents hoisted children onto shoulders ahead of the long march from the wildly expensive car parks to the castle gate, following a rainbow trail of boa feathers.
There were stewards offering wrist bands to minors “and to the adults who might get lost at the bar”, the woman policing the table said as she scribbled my name and number on a band for my smallest child.
The road led past blocks of portable toilets where enterprising children sold rolls of toilet paper to anxious looking customers.
When asked about prices a child said they were “only €2″.
For the packet?
“No, per roll.”
They cost the kids 20 cent. The future of the rip-off Republic is in safe hands.
Once inside, the challenge was to find a space to sit for the hours before Harry. Tens of thousands of people were ahead in the race for that space so we struggled to find a patch of grass even three quarters of the way back from the front.
We ended up beside a super-organised group of families who had spread a network of picnic blankets across a small area having arrived at midday, a full two hours before the gates opened.
Dave Ellis from Carlow was the sole man in the group. He’d been sitting for more than two hours by the time we interrupted him. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get up,” he said. “I’ve lost the feeling in my legs and I don’t think they work any more.”
He laughed when asked if he was a big Harry Styles fan. “I was kind of roped into coming.”
Roped or not, he’d embraced the Styles spirit with zeal. “I spent last night putting hairspray on the boas to hold them together,” he said. “That is what we were told to do.”
“It didn’t work.”
Beside him was Serena Carney. “We’ve been sitting here for hours and we are not moving,” she said with the firmness of an Irish mammy.
The last time she was here was for Guns and Roses in 1992. “It was a bit a different, I suppose. The atmosphere was different for sure.”
She certainly didn’t have a picnic including feta cheese sprinkled with crumbled bacon at that gig.
We didn’t even have feta in Ireland back then.
Annie Mac took to the stage to play some tunes and if Slane had a roof she’d have lifted it off when she played a snippet of Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme (a man after midnight) and started a wild singalong.
Jenny Murphy from Limerick was another concertgoer in the parent trap. “I’m here with my daughters,” she said. “I’m not a big fan. The last time I was here was in 1995 for REM.”
How did then compare with now? “There is a lot more pink today and the crowd is so different. We took the bus up and there were three people over 25 on it. Me, my friend and the bus driver. But it’s great and there is such a happy vibe and people are so stylish.”
She did have one gripe though. “The prices! They’re mad. The t-shirts are 40 quid and the hoodies are 80. And I am just after buying a scoop of ice cream for a fiver.”
As the support act Wet Leg embarked on a scream therapy session which lead singer Rhian Teasdale promised would make everyone feel better, a man stumbled past carrying two hard-won crepes from one of the food stalls where insanely long queues formed for most of the day.
When asked if he was okay, he sighed heavily and said “I just f**king want to go home.”
Only four hours to go, I thought, but said nothing.
Not everyone wanted to go home. In fact virtually no-one else did. Grainne Gleeson from Downpatrick and Caoimhe Daly from Warrenpoint didn’t care about prices or queues or feta and were all about Harry.
“She’s his number one fan,” Gleeson said gesturing to her friend. “She’s seen him twice already on this tour and this is her third time. And she’s going to London to see him.”
Daly nodded enthusiastically. When asked why she’d want to see anyone play four times in a matter of weeks, she said that while “it might be the same songs every night it is a different vibe. And I had to come to Slane because it is such an iconic venue.”
Aoife Sheehan from Limerick said she wasn’t such a die-hard fan and was here because she got a ticket for her birthday. “I was a big One Direction fan but forgot about him until I heard his last album and was blown away by it. And look around you, isn’t the atmosphere just brilliant?
She wasn’t wrong.
Then Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody blared out of the speakers, a sign that Styles was ready for us. After that it was all screams and shrieks and singalongs and as I marvelled at the energy and the enthusiasm of the crowd it dawned on me that REM, Oasis, the Rolling Stones or even Bowie who I’d seen play this field had not come close to matching the joy, excitement and showmanship Harry Styles brought to Slane.
Hats off to him.