blame portugal

The time Linda Martin and Johnny Logan entered the Eurovision ... and lost

The two singers have quite a pedigree in Europe – but did you know they once lost out to a tune called ‘Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley’?

DPA Luxemburg - Eurovision Song Contest 1984 DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

IRELAND’S RECENT RECORD in the Eurovision is patchy at best. To define ‘recent’ a little more accurately – we haven’t won the damn thing for more than two decades.

It was all so different, back in the early 90s. The Johnny Logan-penned Why Me, belted out by Linda Martin, kicked of an unprecedented purple patch for the country at the contest, as we claimed victory three years in a row to secure our position as most successful nation ever at the contest.

Frankly, it got a little ridiculous. In subsequent years people began to joke that RTÉ was praying Ireland would lose, so the broadcaster wouldn’t have to stage the contest – an idea later taken up by the writers of Father Ted (so even if you’re no fan of the Eurovision – if it wasn’t for the likes of Logan, Martin and co, we’d never have had a ‘My Lovely Horse’).

Martin’s success at the Eurovision changed her life. It was the last chance for her to have a bigger career, she said in phone interview with earlier this week.

We’d called Martin to talk to her about another, less well-remembered, time she’d entered the Eurovision. It was back in 1984, when the competition – though still a massive deal – operated on a much smaller scale compared to the multi-night, multimedia extravaganza it is today.

varvarah69 / YouTube

While Ireland’s triumphs in the contest have become part of the cultural folk memory, people are (for obvious reasons) less aware of our near-misses – like, for instance, Martin’s 80s entry.

That said – according to the singer – in Eurovision circles people know that song, ‘Terminal Three’, almost as well as they know her song contest-winning calling card.

The song (watch the video above if you’ve never heard it) was another Logan composition. He’d already won the competition once at this stage – singing Shay Healy’s What’s Another Year in 1980.

Johnny Logan - Eurovision. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Interestingly, by the time Martin was selected to represent Ireland on the European stage, she’d already entered the national song contest a whopping eight times.

The phrase ‘glutton for punishment’ may have arisen, as we began our conversation.

“I know what you’re going to ask me… I was part of a group for three of them, but I honestly can’t remember if it was eight or not.

The funny thing is people seem to focus on that but I really don’t know why because there’s somebody in Eurovision this year who has been in their national finals ten times… It’s no actual big deal within Eurovision circles.

Back in the 70s and early-80s there were very few opportunities for Irish artists who didn’t write their own songs to break out of the country and make a name for themselves in Britain, Europe or the US. Martin had wanted to enter the Eurovision ever since she witnessed her friend Dana’s success in 1970.

I just knew that for me it was the only way out of the one night stand gigs that I had to do to keep myself afloat.
Even by that stage, it was beginning to wear very, very thin. I wanted to do something else but there was no way out.
That’s why I kept on and on and on at it.

Footage of the 1984 national contest, which can be viewed on the RTÉ Archives site, shows a clearly delighted Logan and Martin celebrating with master-of-ceremonies Gay Byrne, after a panel of local juries has its say on the year’s entrants.

The tone is markedly different to the way Eurovision is treated these days. Logan appears visibly nervous as he wonders aloud about making a second attempt at the song contest. The head of RTÉ light entertainment shows up to tell the songwriter he’s travelling in the footsteps of some remarkable people and to wish him “good luck in Europe”.

gay1 RTÉ Archives RTÉ Archives

Tiny venue

Just over a month later, Martin and her team landed in Luxembourg City for the final, held in what she describes as a “small theatre” without even fixed seats.

The country had had trouble finding a venue in previous months – so it was decided eventually to hold it in the tiny Theatre Municipal.

Unlike today, only press and members of each country’s delegation were allowed in – along with a selection of VIPs. 19 countries took part – with Greece and Israel notable absentees.

Ireland’s entry went down well with the audience – but elsewhere in the show, the United Kingdom’s song was booed (it may have been something to do with the actions of English football hooligans, who had rioted in Luxembourg prior to the contest).

“There were absolutely no theatrics,” in the venue, Martin said.

 You walked out and performed with the orchestra and that was it.

Blame Portugal 

She has clear memories of the voting process – which started off extremely well as Ireland were granted a ‘douze points’ in the first verdict of the night.

Welcome news, you might think.

But according to Martin:

I remember thinking to myself a horse that starts off in a race, they don’t usually win and I was just thinking ‘oh Christ this isn’t going to end up well’.

Sweden was Ireland’s main rival that night, with a tune that, at this remove, sounds like a parody of a nonsense Europudding song title – ‘Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley’.

DPA Luxemburg - Eurovision Song Contest Sweden's The Herreys claim victory for 'Diggi Loo-Diggi Ley'. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

It all came down to the final vote – from the Portuguese jury. Martin’s concerns were proven right – they didn’t vote for Ireland at all.

Gothenburg  hosted the contest the following year and the Swedes’ nonsense entry went on to become a hit in several countries.

The contest was a “huge learning curve,” said Martin, and she’s not bearing any grudges against Portugal.

However her extended family, she remembers, were less than happy.

“My cousin at that time was working in a hotel in London and this Portuguese tour came in. He refused to carry their luggage or do anything for them.

‘You didn’t vote for my cousin,’ he said to them, and flounced off.


Martin and Logan, of course, returned to the Eurovision stage just under a decade later – with a song almost genetically engineered to win the contest.

Logan had triumphed in the competition twice as singer and once as a songwriter at this stage. Arriving in Malmö, “he was able to look up at the scoreboard and he was able to tell us what countries were going to vote for us – and by Jesus he was right, because he worked in all the countries and he knew what they were going to go for”.

dpa-exclusive - Johnny Logan sits at Isar river with his dog Logan poses for a photoshoot near Munich in 2013. Like Martin, the singer is very much in demand in Germany and elsewhere on the continent. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

The win changed her life, Martin says, and as a Eurovision winner she’s still in demand across the continent for concerts – particularly at this time of year.

The year she won “was probably the final chance, being honest with you”.

I don’t think it was going to come around again – so I had to make the most of Why Me.

Read: Ireland is top of the heap of Eurovision winners – here’s how other countries measure up >

Read: Why doesn’t Ireland win the Eurovision any more? >

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