How times have changed – Riverdance for Rwanda

It’s a truth almost universally acknowledged at this point that the Irish economic situation is about as bad as bad can get. My own flatmate asked me sarcastically yesterday morning “When you go home for Christmas, will there even be an Ireland to go home to?”. The Irish Times seems to be joining in the chorus and indeed the New York Times issued a fairly damning indictment of the situation in its pages a couple of days ago. As well as that, Labour party politician Pat Rabbitte was seen tearing into a government minister on prime time this week, reflecting very much the current mood of the nation.

My friend Rebecca visited me this week for the annual St Andrew’s Ball in Aberdeen. Rebecca sings with the Irish choral group Anuna. I first heard Anuna when I was five years old when watching the famous Riverdance for Rwanda video. Riverdance had just received its big break as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin accompanied by Anuna. They received a standing ovation. The performance is still widely considered to be a watershed moment in Irish culture.  As a result of the popularity of its music, the broadcaster Radio Telifis Eireann released a video of the interval performance under the title Riverdance for Rwanda, with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee. This was the video I watched when I was five and I have no doubt that every single Irish person of my generation could hum the tune at the drop of a hat.

What was so terrific about Riverdance was that it was symbolic of Ireland at the time. For the first time in years, things were looking up, young people weren’t leaving and the economy was beginning the greatest boom of all time. Our moment had arrived. Riverdance and Ireland were calling out to the world and especially to the Irish diaspora, saying “We’ve arrived! Come see!”. That youthful optimism is a far cry from the newspaper reports above. This video echoes an attitude and phenomenon not likely to re-emerge in Ireland for some time.

Still, Rebecca and I knew every single word.


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Filed under Culture, Film, Ireland, Music, Pop Culture

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