15 of the most memorable moments at Irish festivals, from Sinéad O’Connor and Beyoncé to Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave

It’s summer festival time again. As we retrieve our wellies and thermal sleeping bags, what better moment to rank great Irish highlights of the past?

- Grian Chatten of Fontaines DC at Electric Picnic in 2018. Photograph: Dave Meehan
- Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave in 1995. Photograph: Bob King/Redferns
- Ice Cube at Sunstroke in 1994. Photograph: INM/Getty
- Billie Eilish on the main stage at Electric Picnic in 2019. Photograph: Dave Meehan
- Sinéad O'Connor at Féile Classical in 2019. Photograph: Debbie Hickey/Getty

Summer festival time is upon us once more, meaning a heady season of mud, sweat and tears – plus musical memories that will last a lifetime. As we retrieve our wellies and thermal sleeping bags, what better opportunity to cast a cold eye on great festival highlights of the past? Hold on to your tent flaps as we count down 15 essential Irish festival moments.

15: Florence + the Machine play in a tiny tent, Oxegen 2009

Florence Welch was still a young artist on the rise when she played one of the smaller stages at Punchestown. But she put in a stadium-sized turn before concluding with a stage dive into an astonished first row. Twelve months later she was on the main stage and would go on to headline Electric Picnic – a trajectory that will have come as little surprise to anyone who saw her take the plunge at Oxegen.

14: Mike Scott joins The Killers, Electric Picnic 2023

Say what you like about The Killers and their journeyman stadium rock or Electric Picnic’s shift away from its bohemian roots, but who could deny the pleasure of seeing Mike Scott of The Waterboys join Brandon Flowers and his bandmates for an impassioned performance of Whole of the Moon last summer? Not Scott – who appeared to be having the time of his life.

13: Kylie Minogue duets with Nick Cave, Féile 1995

Kylie Minogue headlines Electric Picnic 2024. She will presumably receive a rather different welcome from the one she got at Páirc Uí Chaoimh 29 years ago, when a crowd of indie kids watched in bafflement as the princess of pop romped through her hits – only to then knock the audience sideways by inviting Nick Cave out to perform their murder ballad, Where the Wild Roses Grow.


12: Lana Del Rey cries, Electric Picnic 2016

Lana Del Rey and Ireland go way back – in 2013 she was greeted like royalty when playing two nights at Vicar Street. She was visibly moved by the reception. (She received enough bouquets to open her own florist.) Headlining Electric Picnic three years later, she was once more overwhelmed. “It’s just heavy performing for people who really care about you, and you don’t really care that much about yourself sometimes,” she said as the floodgates opened. “I thought it was sad. I thought my position was sad. I thought it was sad to be in Ireland singing for people who really cared when I wasn’t sure if I did.”

11: Sinéad O’Connor says goodbye, Féile Classical 2019

Sinéad O’Connor would step away from live performance not long after her final Irish festival headline show. But what memories she left. Her voice cut through the cold Tipperary night when she delivered her great lament Nothing Compares 2 U. Those vocals felt bigger than the setting, seeming to descend from the heavens above.

10: Lorde walks on water, Forbidden Fruit 2022

The sun came out as the Solar Power singer played her first Irish show. The artist born Ella Yelich-O’Connor spoke about her Irish heritage (through her father’s side) and how meaningful it had been to stroll around Dublin in the hours before the concert in balmy Kilmainham.

9: Rory Gallagher storms Macroom Mountain Dew Festival 1978

Rory Gallagher had headlined the inaugural Mountain Dew Festival 12 months previously – an event often regarded as Ireland’s first music festival. In 1978 the Cork bluesman returned for an iconic set, playing to an audience that included 16-year-old Dave Evans, aka the Edge of U2. “In terms of his contribution to rock’n’roll in this country, he will always be remembered,” the Edge later told Hot Press. “He was the first. He was the guy who did it when it was unheard of in Ireland. A lot of the bands and artists that came after him really should thank him for preparing the way.”

8: Fontaines DC tackle the Body & Soul Stage, Electric Picnic 2018

The Dubliners drew a respectable crowd to Electric Picnic’s beloved cottage-core stage nine months before the release of their debut LP, Dogrel. Few who witnessed the performance could have expected that, just six years later, they would be selling out 3Arena.

7: Ice Cube sticks it to the man, Sunstroke 1994

The second Sunstroke festival had an eclectic bill, featuring a post-Pixies Frank Black, the Kilkenny hair-metallers My Little Funhouse, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who started their performance with a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann. But if anyone won the day, it was the former NWA frontman Ice Cube, who expressed his confident belief that Irish people could empathise with the oppression his community had suffered in Los Angeles and then led the crowd through an enthusiastic rendition of NWA’s Fuck tha Police. That commemorative Bohemian FC shirt is surely in the works.

6: Rage Against the Machine bring the power and the fury, Féile 1994

Féile outdid itself in its final year at Thurles with a bill that ran all the way from Paul Oakenfold to Elvis Costello. One of the most incendiary performances was by Rage Against the Machine, whose ferocious rap metal conjured a visceral brutality not witnessed at Semple Stadium since the Tipperary full-back line of the 1960s.

5: Orbital show us the chime of our lives, Féile 1995

Going on late, after The Stone Roses over-ran their slot, the Kent techno siblings Paul and Phil Hartnoll did their best to blow the baggy icons off stage with a mind-expanding show. “It was a very memorable gig,” Paul would later say. “We’d only started on the festival circuit. Every festival from then is etched in our memory.

4: Arcade Fire arrive as rock stars, Electric Picnic 2005

Arcade Fire had been making waves before Electric Picnic, but their set at the Electric Arena confirmed, for band and audience alike, that they were about to become huge. “We were truly taken aback by what happened at that festival in 2005. The sense of empathy coming from the crowd – well, it floored us,” drummer Jeremy Gara would say. “As a musician, you want to connect with audiences. And the connection that day was unbelievable. I realise that’s something all bands say, but we seem to have a unique effect on people in Ireland.”

3: Billie Eilish headlines Electric Picnic 2019

“That show was awesome,” Eilish’s brother and chief musical collaborator, Finneas O’Connell, recalled of their performance on Electric Picnic Friday five years ago. The singer had initially been booked to play the smaller Electric Arena. But she became one of the de facto festival headliners when upgraded to the main stage, putting in a turn that would linger long in the memory – especially as Covid shut down the world soon afterwards.

2: The Stone Roses headline Féile 1995

The Stone Roses’ comeback concert in Cork continues to divide opinion. Was it an iconic return from a group who had been locked away, toiling over their dysfunctional second LP, for years? Or an underwhelming attempt at reclaiming old glories? People argue either side with conviction to this day, but nobody can dispute the significance of the event. “It’s gone down as a huge Stone Roses gig,” recalled Ed Simons of The Chemical Brothers, who played earlier in the weekend and made a point of staying to see the Sunday-night headliners. “We loved The Stone Roses so much. We hung out with [Roses bassist] Mani a bit. I remember watching them with various members of Menswear and having a great time. If you look at that festival, it was like [the Britpop bible] Select magazine coming to life.”

1: Beyoncé rocks Oxegen 2011

One of the largest ever main-stage crowds in the history of the Oxegen festival at Punchestown turned out to see Beyoncé. Then at the height of her powers, Queen Bey delivered a forceful greatest-hits set that opened with Crazy in Love and included the one-two of Run the World (Girls) and Halo. Rumours that she stopped in Naas beforehand to buy a bag of Tayto remain unconfirmed, but let’s all agree to pretend it happened.