- 25 Aug 20
19 years ago today, U2 played the first of their two 2001 headliners at Slane Castle. To mark the occasion we're revisiting Pat Carty's reflections on the legendary gigs.
It was the end of the European leg of the Elevation tour, a successful jaunt in support of 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the album whereupon U2 reapplied for the job of “best band in the world” after the mis-step – to the band at least - of 1997’s Pop. Rather than the usual single Slane concert, the international clamour for tickets justified The ‘2 playing twice, on the 25th of August, and the 1st of September, 2001.
Through internet chicanery, I managed to get my hands on a few tickets to both shows, although at this remove they blend into one and my memories are possibly also coloured by the subsequent, highly recommended U2 Go Home DVD. As you always do in retrospect, I remember only fine weather and a spirit of good-humoured camaraderie amongst the crowd. U2 bashing, of Bono in particular, was even then a favourite national pastime, down beside discussing property prices, but there is always a sense of community and, yeah, go on, pride at their shows, and it was never more so then at Slane.
This almost nationalistic fervour was further fanned by the small matter of the football. You could easily fit all I know about competitive sport, and soccer in particular, on half a postage stamp, and still have room left for this article, but I was as caught up as everyone else as we watched the ball hit the back of the Dutch net on the big screen, our collective middle finger in the dike, averting the Netherlander flood, securing the Republic Of Ireland’s place in the World Cup play-offs. With the greatest respect to Moby, Ash and The Walls, U2 couldn’t have wished for a better opening act. Bono, the greatest showman - apologies to Mr P. Lynott of Crumlin - that this island has ever produced, knew full well what he was up to as he wrapped himself in the tricolour, and told the crowd to “close your eyes and imagine… it’s Jason McAteer!”
I’ve been going to see them for well over thirty years at this point; they’re never less than very, very good, and, alongside Springsteen, they are the absolute masters of the kind of big show that the universe had in mind when it designed Slane Castle and environs, but this one was special. The image of “our tribe” jumping up and down as one during ‘Elevation’; swinging those green, white and orange inflatable hammers that Thomas Francis Meagher and his French female friends could never have conceived of, will be burned into my brain as long as its neurons continue to fire.
But, the real reason these gigs are right up there with the very best that I have been fortunate enough to attend is personal. Bob Hewson lost his battle with cancer just a week before the first show, and Bono told the story of his old man on both nights, about the fine tenor he was in the Coolock Musical Society, dedicating ‘Kite’ to his memory. I had only that year lost my own father, also to cancer, so I felt deeply for the man and admired him for carrying on with the show in the first place. I fought back tears as the Edge’s slide solo scraped the night sky: “Who’s to know when the time has come around, don’t want to see you cry, I know that this is not goodbye.”
I’m not a spiritual person, at all, and it may have been the drink, of which there was plenty, but there, in that mythical, magical Meath meadow - where the hill slopes gently down to a river which, presumably, runs to the sea - surrounded by thousands of delirious U2 fans, in front of that heart-shaped stage, in the shadow of the Conyngham family home, I felt… something. It was deeply, unforgettably moving, and isn’t that why we all give our hearts up to music in the first place? The goal was, is, and always will be, soul.
Explore the Hot Press U2 Collection here.