The History of Irish Language At Eurovision – Would “Uisce Line” (Waterline) be as Catchy?

Ireland Eurovision Entry 1972

Ireland's only every Eurovision entry to be sung in Irish/Gaelic back in 1972

Language is one of those subjects that divides Eurovision Fans.

Popularity vs. Authenticity

It has been generally held in high regard that if a country wanted to win the Eurovision Song Contest, they needed to sing in a language that had a wide recognition. Hence there have been a high proportion of entries that have won the contest that have been sung in English and French for example.


The rules of the Eurovision Song Contest had originally been created with many conditions and stipulations. One of those rules that the European Broadcasting Union had insisted on, was that each country would have to sing in the national language of their country. Not a problem until you look at some countries that had more than 1 official language – like that of Ireland where English AND Irish (Gaelic) are our official languages.

New Rules on Language

Nowadays the rules of Eurovision have been amended. Since 1999 when the Orchestra was removed from Eurovision, so too was the rule stating that a country had to sing in their national language. Therefore the first ever winner of Eurovision by a country not singing in their official national language was that of Sweden in 1999 where Charlotte Nilsson (Perrelli) sang “Tusen och en natt” which became “Take Me To Your Heaven” at the Eurovision Contest later that year in Israel where she narrowly beat Selma from Iceland who – like Sweden – sang in English and had their best ever result at Eurovision coming in 2nd.

History of Irish Language in Eurovision

Now I was talking with our good friends at Joy Radio 94.9 in Australia again this week discussing Ireland’s somewhat contentious relationship with performing at Eurovision in Gaelic. Since joining Eurovision way back in 1965 (and no I was not born then) Ireland have only ever sent 1 entry to Eurovision sung in Irish and that came back in 1972 (and again I was not born).

Why is that?

And what was so special about 1972?

Well I discussed that with Andy and Hikaru at Joy Radio (Link Below) the possible answers to some of these questions. They have kindly given me one full podcast containing my 2 interviews with the guys, so you will be familiar with the first part of the interview from our previous blog with the team in Australia. What you really need to listen out for is

  • Our talk on the Irish National language and how it is seen today in Irish society,
  • It’s potential revival through the mass media
  • If it would be possible for Ireland to ever send another entry to Eurovision in Gaelic.

Eurovision & Irish-Anglo Politics

I will add that the year we did send the song “Ceol an Ghrá” which means “The Music of Love” – it was at the height of the Anglo-Irish Troubles between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

  • 1970 had seen Ireland win the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time with the singer Dana and her song “All Kinds of Everything”. What was interesting about this was that Dana is from Derry in Northern Ireland yet she was representing The Republic of Ireland at Eurovision. The following year the contest was held in Dublin to wonderful praise by the European Media.
  • However come 1972 the troubles in Northern Ireland had escalated and with the contest being held in the United Kingdom, some journalists say that it was highly sought to send our song to the UK and have it performed in Gaelic as an International sign of our Independence from the United Kingdon. So much so that the Irish National Final that year had 4 songs performed in Irish – and the norm prior and after this was to have at least 1 song in Gaelic. So it was no surprise that an Irish song won the Irish National Final and went to – of all places The United Kingdom to compete in the contest.

The Irish situation back in the 1970’s might be for some of our readers difficult to fully understand or comprehend but International televised events like The Eurovision Song Contest had a huge nationalistic importance.

Eurovision & European Politics

Over recent years we have had some countries withdrawing from Eurovision over similar reasons – Georgia withdrawing from the contest in Russia in 2009 and Armenia withdrawing from the contest this year in Azerbaijan. Regional disputes and conflicts have been cited for these withdrawals.

So Sandie Jones went to Edinburgh and sang her Irish song “Ceol an Ghrá” and finished in 15th place. Here is her performance from the 1972 contest.

  • What do you think of this song?
  • A very interesting question that Andy and Hikaru posed was “Would Jedward’s song “Waterline” have the same success if it was translatedand performed in Irish?”

Personally I think not, as the Irish Language still has an image problem – even at home – in how it is perceived by most of the country. What do you think? Would “Waterline” be an Irish and International success if it was not sung in English? It is a difficult one to answer – but I hope you all will.

6 replies »

  1. Good Point Elish – There was a song like what you made reference to. Sheeba represented ireland in 1981 with the song Horoscopes and came 5th that year. They tried to represent Ireland a second year in a row with this English Song with an Irish title/chorus.

  2. why wouldnt rte enter one gaelic song each year … bring gaelic into modern times just because its irish language doesnt mean it has to a old fashioned song … try it rte some light dubstep with irish lyrics…. ya never know !

    • Hi Jonathan – Well I actually interviewed the Head of the Irish Eurovision Delegation today – video to follow tomorrow – and he actually mentioned an Irish song at Eurovision – so watch this space.

  3. I think It makes you wonder if there is scope for a Eurovision Song that can incorporate Irish as part of its refrain or as a bridge rather than being completely Irish or English. it makes me think of People like Des bishop and his ability to incorporate Irish into his hip hop numbers.

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