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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Mark Stedman Garth Brooks pictured at the launch of the ill-fated 2014 'Garth Brooks Comeback Special Event'.
no fences

Why does Ireland have such a connection with Garth Brooks?

Fans and a music expert have their say.

IN LESS THAN a week’s time, tens of thousands of people will converge on Croke Park stadium to see a man whose return has been very, very long awaited: Garth Brooks.

After his attempt to play five dates at the same venue in 2014 was scuppered, fans wondered if the country music legend would ever play on Irish soil again.

They got their answer last year, when it was confirmed he would play five concerts (across 10 days) at the stadium. 

Ireland has a particularly strong relationship with Brooks. For starters, his mother Colleen McElroy Carroll was of Irish ancestry, so he has that connection. And since the 1990s, he’s always had a huge fanbase to draw on here.

His first performances were a string of gigs in 1994 at the Point Depot (now the 3Arena). At the time, the then 32-year-old was the biggest-selling country star in the world, having sold 35 million records worldwide. 

He then returned to Ireland to play Croke Park stadium in 1997 – and hasn’t played since. When his 2014 gigs were cancelled, he was said to have been devastated. But even though it’s been years since he last played, his fandom hasn’t waned – his latest gigs sold out in hours. 

So what accounts for the longevity of Brooks’ popularity in Ireland, and what has people running to go see him not once, but multiple times? 

Rhinestone and glitz

Arts and culture journalist Alan Corr of has watched Garth Brooks’ success grow over the past four decades. He’s also interviewed him at least five times over the years. 

He first saw Garth Brooks perform in London on his 1992 tour, and though he’s not personally a big fan, has attended some of his gigs in Ireland. 

Corr told The Journal that he believes Ireland loves Brooks “because he’s so homespun – he’s got moral values”. His fans connect with these values, said Corr, and see Brooks as being very genuine about them. (He adds, though, that when it comes to the singer’s image, it’s good to note he is a graduate of advertising, so he certainly knows how to sell something.)

“Rural Ireland has really fallen for him because he espouses those values they hold on to,” added Corr. “It appeals back to that traditional value base and moral base people have.”

He wasn’t at all surprised by Brooks’ initial success in Ireland in the 1990s, given a number of factors. The line dancing craze was taking over the country, while the era of the showbands had died down, meaning people could have been looking for something to replace them with. “We have always loved that rhinestone and glitz side of country music in Ireland,” said Corr. 

Anyone who remembers the 1990s will remember how popular line dancing in particular was (not that it’s gone away – there are still line dance classes going on), with almost every local community hall in the country holding a class at some stage. 

But not everyone loved the pursuit – Dustin the Turkey started his own organisation SOLD: Stamp Out Line Dancing.

And country songs were in the charts, though it wasn’t just acts like Brooks – Swedish band Rednex had a huge hit with their country song Cotton Eye Joe in 1994.

Country was having a moment, and people were really leaning into it. “People wanted a good night out, they enjoyed going out, seeing a live band and having a dance,” said Corr. “But certain people in the Dublin media were snobby about this.”

Brooks picked up on Ireland’s love for his music quickly, and has always talked highly of his fans here. He even wrote a song himself called Ireland. “It’s clear Garth Brooks’ relationship with Ireland was always going to be very strong; he genuinely does love the place,” said Corr. 

90124810 Line dancers at the Culchie Festival in 2008.

The media picked up on the fandom too. The RTÉ Guide, for example, knew that its ‘middle Ireland’ readership was a fan of Brooks. “When I worked for the RTÉ Guide, he was on the cover at least twice a year,” said Corr. Garth Brooks occupied the same space as the likes of Daniel O’Donnell for the Guide’s readership – they loved him. 


To appeal to audiences big enough to fill stadiums, you could argue you need to make the sort of country that has a very broad appeal. So while Brooks is no Townes Van Zandt, clearly the emotion and drive behind his songs has helped him find connection with fans easily. 

Though they’re musically different, Corr said he would compare Brooks to occupying a similar place in the minds of some music fans as U2 and Bruce Springsteen, both acts which can sell out stadiums here, and who both have a huge and dedicated longtime fanbase. 

But despite all of his success, Brooks has his detractors too. Corr described Brooks as “very sincere” when he interviewed him, and said he definitely felt the impact of the negativity:

I found him to be very honest and open. Anytime I asked him about the criticism and sneering he said it hurts – he is just trying to please an audience.

‘I’m going to all five gigs’ 

Regardless of any cynicism, Garth Brooks’ fans are nothing if not dedicated.

Dee Lawless from Dublin is going to all five Croke Park gigs, and has a group of friends who are doing the same. She was gutted when the 2014 Croke Park gigs were cancelled. She’d seen him play the previous Croke Park gig, and had been into his music since around the time of his Point gigs.

She described herself as a “lifelong fan”, but adds: “I wouldn’t be a country and western fan. I like him, and we would have liked Shania Twain and stuff like that, but it was always just Garth Brooks.” 

Her fandom dates back to her teen years, when she was in school (she found an old tape that she used to listen to recently while cleaning the house). “I’ve followed him ever since,” she said. She’s originally from Clonsilla, so doesn’t buy into the idea of an urban/rural divide among Garth fans. 

A lot of the appeal to Brooks is nostalgia for her, but above all she just really loves his songs. And with a gang of friends who are also into him, the gigs are a big social event for them all. 

Lawless and some of her friends had booked tickets his Vegas tour – but then Covid hit. When his Vegas gigs were rebooked, the gang didn’t get to them because of Covid travel restrictions. “So we are determined to see him this time in case we never get to see him again!” she told The Journal. “We were so looking forward to the big comeback [in 2014] and it just never happened. This is worth waiting for anyway – it’s literally a week of gigs.”

She said she and her friends have high hopes for next week, as they still talk about the last Croke Park gigs over two decades on. “He was just brilliant, a total show. We had friends with us that didn’t even follow him and even still they’d talk about it, saying it was the most amazing gig ever,” said Lawless. 

She’s taken the week off work so she can go to the gigs. “It’s just been the anticipation of ‘is it going to happen, is it going to happen?,” she says of the excitement they’re feeling now.

While some people might be dressing up in full cowboy regalia for the gigs, Lawless will be going more lowkey – maybe a cowboy hat might make its way into her outfit.

Above all tough, she’s looking forward to the craic: “It won’t be a messy crowd – everything there is for fun and banter.” 

90348376 Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Christy 'Smokie' Crosbie is pictured taking down a pro five nights sign at Lowrys on the Ballybough Road, Dublin 3 today just after all five of Garth Brooks' Croke Park concerts were cancelled. Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

‘Country music is accessible’

Peter O’Brien is a Labour councillor in Dublin who’s a big music fan – you’re most likely to find him at a Guns and Roses or Red Hot Chili Peppers gig, so it might be a surprise to hear he’s going to be one of the thousands heading to see Garth Brooks next week.

He’s been a fan of Brooks since he was a child. “It’s because of my brother and sister and my mum,” he said. “We listened to albums like In Pieces and The Red Strokes – they were the albums in the car if we were heading down to Limerick or Kilkee.”

Why does he think people are drawn to Garth Brooks?

Country music is just accessible – Irish people like to sing along, so it was songs that I was singing with my parents.

He says people like Brooks because “the tunes are catchy – you can remember them”. “Even people that don’t like him know his music. Even people who would scoff at him, they know Friends in Low Places; they know The Dance.”

O’Brien also believes that Brooks taps into the respect that country artists in particular tend to have for their fans. “There’s always great respect given by performers in the country genre,” he said. “There seems to be good connection with people, you see that more in Ireland than anywhere.”

O’Brien’s not an obsessive fan – he likes all genres of music – but it’s that nostalgia factor that has him going to the gig. “The group of friends that I’m in, only two of us are into Garth Brooks and we are both going to the concert together. But it is the cause of much slagging,” he said. 

Though he is from Dublin, his parents are not and he believes that in general Dublin people “don’t get” country music. “My Dublin friends, very little of them are into him. Most of my friends would be Dublin-based and they wouldn’t think twice about slagging him off,” said O’Brien. “There is no way in hell I would get them into Croke Park.”

Do people have some misconceptions about Brooks and his music? “I don’t think it’s a misconception – you either like stuff or you don’t. I like it and some people don’t,” said O’Brien. “If they went to the gig I’d say they’d love it.” 

He sees his fandom as a generational thing – he is the son of big fans – and that contributes to the nostalgia around going to see Brooks live. He first went to see him during his tour in 1995 in Ireland. “My brother took me – my brother is 15 years older than me. I do remember that gig, so I’m going back with my friend Philip Doyle, he was there with his family as well in 1995.”

At the 1995 gig, O’Brien remembers how “the crowd didn’t stop singing from start to finish – they knew every word of every song that he had”.

It was like being at a football match, if you get caught up in a crowd singing the same thing, it’s a really positive vibe you get from that.

And it’s that positive vibe that he expects more of when Brooks plays Croke Park. “You know you are going to a gig where there will be craic – I can’t see one bit of hassle,” he said.

At the gig, he hopes to “have fun with my friends – it’s going to be an escape for the night”. They’re going so they can “lose yourself for three hours”. 

But he does add: “I’m 37 – I could be one of the youngest people there!”

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