There was a time in the ’80s and ’90s when Ireland dominated the Eurovision Song Contest. We have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 55 times, missing only two contests (1983 and 2002). Believe it or not, Ireland has a record total of seven wins and is the only country to have won the Eurovision three times consecutively.
Ireland’s seven wins were achieved by Dana with “All Kinds of Everything” (1970), Johnny Logan with “What’s Another Year” (1980) and “Hold Me Now” (1987), Linda Martin with “Why Me” (1992), Niamh Kavanagh with “In Your Eyes” (1993), Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids” (1994) and Eimear Quinn with “The Voice” (1996). Johnny Logan is the only performer to have won twice and also wrote the 1992 winning entry.
Indeed, RTE was forced to host the competition so often that the station was in danger of going bankrupt. They eventually began to share their largesse with the great unwashed outside the Pale and on one famous occasion in 1993 the event was staged in the Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, County Cork. The Green Glens was more commonly associated with show jumping and other equestrian events at the time but RTE was known to make the occasional foray into the wilderness and so Noel C. Duggan’s state-of-the-art equestrian centre was chosen to stage the event on this occasion. This was the 38th Eurovision Song Contest and, low and behold, yet again, Ireland, represented by Niamh Kavanagh, was the winner with the song, “In Your Eyes”.
Long before this famous victory, however, a young impecunious poet called Michael Hartnett, formerly from Newcastle West but now living ‘out foreign in Glantine’ had decided that it was about time that he tried his hand at songwriting. He had been looking closely at the lyrics and he felt that surely a wordsmith of his quality could match the quality of Johnny Logan’s ‘What’s Another Year’! He gathered a small, intrepid band of musicians and wordwrights about him, and in the Winter Poet’s Corner in The Shamrock Bar in South Quay he produced the following entry for the Eurovision Song Contest of 1981. Fittingly, for a poet that is, the song was entitled ‘I Can Read You Like a Book’. Peter Fallon includes this version in the 2015 reprint of The Book of Strays. He tells us in a postscript to that edition that he received it from Seán Tyrrell the great traditional singer and musician who sadly passed away in October 2021. Unfortunately, Hartnett’s foray into songwriting did not find favour with the judges, and his ‘song’ with its quite intriguing Chorus disappeared forever, or so we thought …….
……… and then, would you believe it, another version of the ‘song’ turned up on 8th October 2022 during a concert given by that great Limerick troubadour, Mick Hanly. He told the Éigse audience in The Longcourt Hotel in Newcastle West that one evening in the 80s he was in the snug of Doheny and Nesbit’s Pub in Dublin having a quiet pint with his brother David when Michael Hartnett arrived and took some papers from his inside pocket and said, ‘I have a Country and Western song for you, Mick’. Miraculously all those years later Mick produced the original sheets of paper on which Hartnet had written out the song in his own distinctive handwriting. In the recording below Mick didn’t use Hartnett’s chorus and substituted it with his own as, I think, he felt it was too bizarre and maybe a little too risque especially for his Country and Western devotees! Instead, he uses his own chorus:
Sometimes when you smile
Unless you rub my brow
I don’t know if you’re sad, happy, or mad
It’s the cheek (?) I’ve never found.
He readily agreed to give me a copy and I quickly photocopied them at the hotel reception. The interesting thing about this version is that, as you can see, the chorus differs slightly from the Eurovision entry and there is the added bonus of an extra verse! No doubt there are numerous other copies and variations out there in the poet’s own handwriting. Maybe in time, we will come across extra verses to this unique undertaking – a song that doubles as a Eurovision entry and as a Country and Western classic!!
Click on the link below to see Mick Hanly sing the World Premiere of Michael Hartnett’s song, ‘I Can Read You Like A Book’:
Author’s Note: Thanks to Dermot Lynch for the video.
 Tony Sheehan and Peg Devine, and later George Daly and his wife Breda, were the owners of The Shamrock Bar in South Quay and both owners were great friends and patrons of the poet. In fact, there were two Poet’s Corners in the pub – a Winter one and a Summer one!
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