40 years ago Slane Castle hosted the biggest outdoor concert in Ireland. 16/08/81 was the date of first concert headlined by Thin Lizzy. Over 30,000 rock fans from all over Ireland came to what turned out to be one of the most successful music concerts organised in the country.
Slane Castle is in the village of Slane, within the Boyne Valley of County Meath and it takes roughly an hour and a half to get to from Belfast or if coming from Dublin less than an hour.
Prior to that there weren’t much big gigs in the country both north and south. With the security situation in the north most bands didn’t quite come to Belfast so for a lot of us it was making the pilgrimage down south to see our favourite bands.
Thin Lizzy were supported by U2, who would return there to record their 1985 album The Unforgettable Fire and would eventually headline two shows in 2001.
Also, on the bill that day were Hazel O’Connor, Rose Tattoo, Sweet Savage, The Bureau and Megahype.
I was only 10 years old at the time and it would be a few years later that I would discover U2.
Following the success of the first concert they would get big names like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, David Bowie, Madonna to name but a few.
The gig I wish I was able to go to
My first memory of knowing about Slane Castle was when Bruce Springsteen arrived in 1985 during the Born in the USA tour. I was a big fan the year before but was way to young to be travelling to such an event. My parents didn’t let me go but I heard so many stories about it that I really wish I had been there.
The gig you and your friends couldn’t decide on
By the 1990s I was really getting into music but the problem I always faced was getting your friends to go along with you. This was the case in 1992 when Guns N’Roses made their first visit to Ireland. Supported by Faith No More and Soundgarden. I had gone off the band a bit as grunge was taking over but trying to convince friends to go just to see Faith No More and Soundgarden was a hard sell, so no takers and I wasn’t brave enough to venture down on my own on a bus!
The gig I regret not going to
A year later and to this day one of my biggest regrets was not going to see Neil Young with Pearl Jam in support. That gig on 10 July 1993 is for me the one that I should have went to but was out of country at the time it happened. After that going to gigs took priority before going away anywhere.
My first Slane gig and the best
1995 and I finally make it to Slane! REM brought the Monster tour to Ireland on 22/07/95 and I had only got into the band the year before. Monster being the first REM album I bought. Prior to that I really wasn’t into them, but this gig remains the best outdoor gig I have ever been to. REM was just immense.
They ripped through 23 songs with the majority of it coming from Monster but we got other classics like Losing My Religion, Pop Song 89, Everybody Hurts and Finest Worksong. Topping it off with It’s The End of the World As We Know It.
Nearly outdone by Oasis who were support. The way the crowd took to them was almost like they were the headliners. Somebody chucked a plastic bottle at Liam Gallagher who almost walked off stage. Oasis went down well with the crowd. A year later they would be headlining their own outdoor shows with their famous two night stand at Knebworth.
Oasis would be back at Slane in 2009 but by then I had gone off their music and wasn’t interested in heading down to see them. Support was decent enough with The Prodigy, Kasabian and Glasvegas but I wasn’t sure if I would stick two hours of the Gallagher brothers.
The rest of the support bill was great too with Belly, Spearhead, Luka Bloom and Sharon Shannon. A fantastic day and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Least favourite Slane gig
My second visit was on 29 August 1998. The Verve were headlining with support from Manic Street Preachers, Robbie Williams, Finlay Quaye, The Sea Horses, James and Junkster.
Me and my friends got down early enough and I don’t think we saw Junkster but were around for the rest of the bill. I wasn’t too fussed on The Sea Horses who were fronted by John Squire (ex-Stone Roses). Finlay Quaye and Robbie Williams didn’t quite float my boat either. Within a year Robbie Williams would be headlining.
Favourites on the day were James and Manic Street Preachers. I got to see them twice that weekend. It was back to Belfast for the Manics gig at the Ulster Hall on the Sunday night. By then they had just achieved their first no.1 single, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.
When it came to The Verve it was a case of why bother. The band were going through the motions, and it wasn’t a great gig as they were on the verge of breaking up. Most people there only seemed to be familiar with Urban Hymans. When they played some of their early stuff nobody knew any of the songs. Leaving at the end there was a huge disappointment as you wanted it to be a good gig, but it wasn’t.
When everybody and their granny wants to see U2
Being a big U2 fan how I missed out on both 2001 shows remains a mystery. The band had completely reinvented itself following the more experimental releases from the 1990s of Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop by returning to their early roots with All That You Can’t Believe Behind.
The first gig on 25 August 2001, the tickets sold out in no time (that explains how I didn’t get a ticket). The Taoiseach requested a fast-track legislation to allow a second concert to take place, to accommodate the massive demand to see U2 live at Slane Castle. The two concerts were headlined by U2, and each concert brought an entirely different set of supporting acts.
The second gig came as a surprise, and I was over in Scotland at the time for a gig and missed out again! The second one on 1 September had Foo Fighters for support but unfortunately, they cancelled and got replaced by Ash. Foo Fighters would eventually return in 2003 supporting Red Hot Chilli Peppers, another gig that I should have been at, but those tickets flew out the window. Support looked good on the day with PJ Harvey and Queens of the Stone. Gutted to miss that one.
Slane 2015 – wet and wild
Foo Fighters finally made their headline debut on 30 May 2015. It was a wet and wild day and not the best conditions of a concert. Getting out of the place was hell.
Support came from The Strypes, Ash, Hozier and Kaiser Chiefs. Missed most of the support due to the difficulties getting into the venue. Caught a bit of Hozier’s set and all of Kaiser Chiefs.
When Foo Fighters came on, they didn’t disappoint. They had a runway stage and a b-stage. That wasn’t used due to the rain all day. My friend Tommy got some good photos from the gig despite the conditions.
Foo Fighters played a solid 23 song set including some nods to previous Slane headliners. They covered Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy for the first time. Thin Lizzy of course being the inaugural headliners from 1981.
They also played Under Pressure by Queen who played here in1986. A permanent fixture in most Foo Fighters concerts with Taylor Hawkins taking over vocal duties and Dave Grohl going being the drums.
Despite it being a very long and wet day, the last song was a cover of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. That was a cue to start making the long way up the hill and back to the car.
Looking back and after buying the t-shirt on the day with the 2015 tour dates on it, little did we know that a few weeks later Dave Grohl would fall of the stage in Gothenburg, Sweden. We got lucky to see them that year.
Foo Fighters would return to Ireland in 2019 with shows in Belfast and Dublin.
Last visit to Slane 2019
Metallica made their first Irish visit since 2009 when they played two sold out shows at the Odyssey in Belfast while the Point was closed for refurbishment.
It was another wet day but wasn’t as bad as the weather from 2015. For the first time we weren’t in a hurry to get down missing most of the support until we got into the amphitheatre.
We could hear Stiff Little Fingers finishing off their set and we were in on time to see Ghost who seemed to be popular with the crowd down at the front.
After Ghost finished it was the long wait for Metallica. Thankfully we didn’t have long to wait in the cold and wet evening as the opening bars of Ennio Morricone’s The Ectasty of Gold started playing and everybody was getting excited.
Launching in a 21 song strong set with quite a lot of new material being played from the recent Hardwired to Self-Destruct album, they treated the fans to a selection of songs from their back catalogue along with a cover of Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar. The band acknowledging the connection Slane has to the first headliners.
Half way through it’s time for some solos from Kirk and Rob. Kirk treated us with a snippet of The Wild Rover during his solo but it was Rob’s bass solo that almost brought a tear to the eye of even the more hardened Metallica fan when they put a picture up on screen of the late Cliff Burton whilst Rob played Orion. It was just beautiful.
During Seek and Destroy, you could see the back drop showing a ticket stub from their SFX Centre show in Dublin. Early Metallica gigs before they hit the big arenas included Top Hat in Dún Laoghaire, Antrim Forum and Ulster Hall in Belfast.
Enter Sandman was the big finale with a massive fireworks display at the end. This was the cue to start heading up the hill but we stopped half way up to marvel at the speculator view of the stage from the hill.
A nice touch of Irish hospitality was presented to the band by U2 who gave them a picnic basket full of goodies to welcome them to Ireland. Failte!