On its 25th anniversary, Liam Nolan tells the story of the spectacular irish show that won the hearts of the world


People with only the sketchiest knowledge of Dublin know that a river runs through it. A river is defined as a large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea. Dublin’s river is, of course, the Liffey, and it was that river that was the jumping off point in a mental exercise of the imagination of an RTÉ documentary-maker named Moya Doherty 25 years ago.

Born in Pettigo, in County Donegal, and married to producer and director John McColgan, she was the executive producer of RTÉ Television’s coverage of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.

RTÉ had hosted the Eurovision the year before in Millstreet, in County Cork, and, Ireland having again won the competition, its staging was now back in the capital, in the Point Theatre. Doherty was, as Americans like to put it, the television production’s head honcho.

The exercise of her imagination came about when she faced the fact that she would need an entertainment segment to fill the on-air time during a scheduled six-or-seven-minute interval.

She was disinclined to settle for just a star singer and a song because, she reasoned, the transmission would have been all about songs and singers up to the interval.

An idea that appealed to her was to try something that might involve Irish dancing. She settled on that, deciding on an entertainment segment visually and musically linked to the Liffey, to the Dublin city skyline, and to Ireland’s artistic culture. Ambitious, imaginative, daring — and a tall order.

Next job was to get it together, to integrate the various elements, to make it work on television and onstage.
She had two dancers in mind, and an Irish choir or vocal ensemble named Anúna. Neither of the two lead dancers she was thinking about was Irish.

They were Irish Americans — one born in New York (Jean Butler), the other born in Detroit (Michael Flatley).
Doherty had seen both of them perform. She knew they were exceptionally talented, and would be well capable of entertaining the projected Point Theatre audience of around 4,000 people as well as the expected television audience of around 300 million viewers.

Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own St Patrick’s Day Annual