Riots and mop-tops: The Beatles played Ireland 50 years ago today

In 1963, the Beatles played in Dublin and Belfast – and today marks the 50th anniversary of that milestone gig.


“WE’RE ALL IRISH,” the Fab Four smiled at journalists when they landed at Dublin airport on 7 November 1963, collars popped up to shield their youthful faces from the Irish wind.

Affable, funny and media-savvy, the Beatles were in Ireland for their only Irish gigs – in Dublin and Belfast – and from their first entrance it was clear they were here to charm their dedicated Irish fans, and then some.

Their two Dublin gigs at the Adelphi cinema on Middle Abbey St were sold-out, but the crowds thronged to the venue, desperate to get a look at their favourite mop-topped musicians.

Among them was Fr Brian D’Arcy, who was ticketless but had sneaked out of Mount Argus in Kimmage, where he was an 18-year-old trainee priest.

Inside the building was journalist Éanna Brophy, who had a badge that proclaimed him a ‘treasurer’ but who was really there to meet the Beatles for the teen magazine Miss.

For both men, the Beatles gigs were remarkable, and demonstrated how different Ireland was becoming in swinging Sixties.

When the Beatles first arrived, there was a small handful of fans outside, recalled Brophy. He was “totally into the Beatles”, and went along to meet the band at about 4pm. All he needed to gain access was a badge given to him by a member of staff.

“Today you’d need about 25 different badges to get talking to anyone like that,” joked Brophy of his shop-bought badge.  At 4.30pm, the Beatles arrived at the venue to “a little bit of a screech” from the assembled female fans.

imageFans talk to the press outside the Adelphi. Pic: YouTube

Brophy remembers there being about 20 journalists and photographers present.

They were still fairly new at this time. They were on the crest of the very first wave. I was kind of clued into who they were but some journalists didn’t have a clue who they were and were asking them silly questions.

Paul McCartney “was very much the same person he is today, full of chat and cracking jokes”, while John Lennon answered Brophy’s question of “what’s the difference between rhythm and blues and rock and roll?” with a deadpan “rhythm and blues is black”.

Brophy also asked if the screaming crowds at their shows were frustrating; Lennon told him it was fine – “as long as everyone’s having a good time”.

“Before that, pop singers had a reputation as being dumb or thick,” said Brophy. “[The Beatles] were sparking on all cylinders and so on.”

Even the cynical photographers were won over by the Beatles, as the foursome asked “do you want a four column photo?”  They had well-rehearsed poses for whatever picture was required, including one where they perched with one head poised on top of the other’s.

Although the press call was short, George Harrison – who had lots of relations in Dublin – “vanished very early on”.

After the interview, Brophy and a few other journalists waited around upstairs for the gig (the Beatles played two gigs that night, along with a number of other bands). Brophy remembered having fun up in the boardroom as the street outside got busier and busier. “A few of us were combing our hair forward and looking out the window, and the girls were screaming,” he laughed.

“A garda was sent up to say ‘stop that’.”

“The gardaí were kind of expecting a certain amount of fans,” said Brophy, but perhaps not the amount that arrived. The crowd exiting the Adelphi after the first gig came streaming out as the crowd for the next gig was trying to get in, leading to some panic.

Amidst the pushing and heaving, people jumped up on parked cars, said Brophy. “Eventually, the gardaí began to shove people back out of the street onto O’Connell St and a few cars were turned over.”

The photographs in the paper the following morning were quite something – the Beatles had certainly left a mark on the city.

The gig

The gig itself was “electrifying”, said Brophy. “There was just screaming going on, no matter who was on stage there were people screaming.”

The Beatles began their set from behind the large red curtains, increasing the sense of anticipation, and opened with I Saw Her Standing There. When the curtains were pulled back, the already incredible noise “went up even louder”.

After their second and final show in Dublin, the Beatles made a clever and swift exit, bundled into a newspaper van that was parked by the Adelphi’s back door.

Brophy thinks the Beatles were huge because “pop music had gone into a slump”, and they helped bring it back to the early days of rock and roll.

Sneaking out

imageThe Beatles in Newry Pic: YouTube

Unlike Brophy, Fr Brian D’Arcy didn’t have a ticket to see the Beatles – but that didn’t stop him sneaking out to try and catch their Dublin gigs.

He had entered religious life and at the age of 18 “considered myself to be up-to-date on everything”.

But after a year without contact with the outside world – no papers, no TV, no radio – “the Beatles had arrived and I didn’t know who the Beatles were”.

The young Fr D’Arcy was “very put out about this”, so when he saw that the Beatles were due in Dublin, he decided to go. But in his “innocence” he had no idea how big they actually were.

After evening prayers, he dressed, climbed out the window, got on his bicycle at Mount Argus and rode the 3.5 miles to the city centre.

The first thing he saw on his arrival was the huge crowd swarming outside the Adelphi.

Abbey St was utterly, utterly mad at that time. So I had no idea what was happening. It was a complete flummox to me… Young ones fainting, shouting and screaming.

It was quite a shock for “a young fellow from the country” but still he persisted, getting to within 20 yards of the door of the Adelphi.

But after being “pushed back by screaming girls” and even stood on by them in the crush, he decided “my virtue was more important that the Beatles” and turned around, hopped back on his bicycle and headed home.

For 40 years, Fr D’Arcy never spoke of his nighttime trip to see the Beatles, but that night left its mark on him.

It taught him “the world had changed an awful lot” in the time he was away.

“I learned a lot that night out of fear; that the world I am living in is not this world.

“I probably couldn’t put words on it, but I knew that there was a world here if I was going to be a priest – I was going to have to be involved in this world of music and world of pop culture of the 1960s.”

Read: Paul McCartney performs surprise mid-afternoon gig in Times Square>

Read: Love me do: The Beatles’ debut single released 50 years ago today>

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