When The Beatles played Dublin and sparked a riot at Arnotts
The Irish Times was unimpressed by four hairy youngsters who . . . ‘walloped guitars’
The trouble began when the first of the evening’s two performances ended and about 3,000 people leaving the theatre mingled with fans waiting to go in for the second show.
A short chapter in Dublin’s musical history will be commemorated on Wednesday when a plaque marking The Beatles’ first, and only, appearance in Ireland is unveiled at Arnotts.
The band played two shows at what was then the Adelphi Cinema, Middle Abbey Street, on November 7th, 1963. Their debut album Please Please Me came out earlier that year and by November the newspapers were already reporting on the first flushes of Beatlemania: “It’s happening everywhere” declared the Daily Mirror.
If The Irish Times of the day failed to recognise the musical significance of the band, it succeeded in providing extensive coverage of Ireland’s only exposure to Beatlemania.
“Many arrested as city crowds riot” ran the front page headline on November 8th, accompanied by a photograph of a crowd of young people breaking through a police cordon on O’Connell Street. The paper referred to them throughout as “Beatle ‘fans’ ” , with the word fans usually in quotation marks.
More than a dozen men were arrested when fights erupted while the Beatles, “the Liverpool ‘beat’ singers”, were playing at the Adelphi cinema, Cathal Óg O’Shannon and Tony Kelly reported.
According to the paper, the trouble began when the first of the evening’s two performances ended and about 3,000 people leaving the theatre mingled with fans waiting to go in for the second show.
“Cars were overturned in Abbey Street and O’Connell Street, at least 50 people were treated for minor injuries, while three people were taken to hospital with fractured legs and arms,” noted the paper of record. A youth was also hospitalised after being stabbed in the head, the report added.
Thousands gathered in the city centre and traffic was brought to a standstill as more than 200 gardaí and 20 squad cars attempted to bring the situation under control. A bus driver was also reportedly dragged from his cab.
At one stage three fire engines arrived to assist the police. And, apparently, the only thing which could help to break up the crowds were the “fire appliances ringing their bells”. The report went on to describe how girls screamed, had to be pulled to safety and “policemen had their caps knocked off”.
Fights broke out at the junction of O’Connell Street and Middle Abbey Street when teenagers tried to force their way through the police cordon. Other groups were busy throwing fireworks or dismantling wooden barriers left out during roadworks.
“One group of youths pushed a parked car into half a dozen policemen who were trying to get them out of the street,” reported The Irish Times. “St John’s Ambulance men treated men and women on the footpaths while the crowds swirled around them.”
The Beatles, meanwhile, were unaware of the commotion which by then was becoming a regular feature at their gigs. “They had been quietly spirited away in a newspaper van to the Gresham Hotel,” said the paper. “Later, two of them went to Drumcondra to see relatives.”
Inside the auditorium, The Irish Times reviewer despaired that they could not hear the performance over the sound of “ecstatic, joyful, hysteric, demented” screams from Dublin teenagers. “A pity, this, because the Beatles, in spite of their theatrical gimmicks, their long locks and ‘with-it’ suits, have a great act,” noted the reviewer, before concluding: “God knows, Dublin has never seen anything like the Beatles.”
The band received less sympathetic treatment from Quidnunc in the Irishman’s Diary the following day, who started by describing his discomfort at having to wait among an audience of teenagers until “at last, four hairy youngsters appeared onstage to be greeted with shrieks and whistles. Three of them walloped electric guitars which appeared to be amplified to the decibel limit, the fourth walloped a set of drums. They all opened their mouths and made noises that sounded to me like: ‘Mew; Me-ooh, me-ooh, me-ooh-ooh!’ ”