Line Dancing – the phenomenen that terrified the GAA…

Keith Duggan in today’s Irish Times discusses Garth Brooks’ return to Croke Park.

Much like the statue in Ballinspittle a few years earlier, the sight of Garth Brooks storming the world brought out the evangelists. His music – this cannot be stressed enough – was inescapable. How you felt about the Brooks catalogue of twangy ballads and anthems was immaterial. Even Ireland’s hardcore metal purists of the early 1990s subconsciously came to know every single line of the Brooks staple ‘Friends In Low Places’ simply because it was played at them a million times. But for a significant number of Irish people, Brooks wasn’t just an American entertainer. He was the great liberator.

Overnight, it felt, Garth Brooks empowered the repressed JR Ewing in many an Irishman. A sudden and unmistakable country ‘n’ western vibe began to infiltrate all spheres of Irish society. Nobody speaks about it anymore but a line-dancing frenzy took hold of the nation around 1993. Hitherto perfectly normal people found themselves suddenly dressed as though for a walk-on part in the original Dukes of Hazzard, chequered of shirt and cowboy-ed of boot as they went through the intricate little steps and hands-on-hips routines that comprised the impenetrable appeal of the line-dancing phenomenon.

And it was a phenomenon! It was the pandemic for which there was no vaccine. The back roads of Georgia and Kentucky infiltrated the Irish imagination through the ubiquitous sounds of Cotton Eyed Joe and Chattahoochee. By 1994, Ireland was holding All-Ireland Line Dancing Championships. Internal memos reveal that the GAA considered its sweeping popularity an existential threat to the association. More strident members wanted an outright ban placed on the practice.

Contrarily, Brooks soon confirmed himself as the most popular draw in the history of the GAA. Eight sell out shows at the Point were mere dress rehearsals for his 1997 appearances at Croke Park which were less musical nights out than experiments in rapture.

Older readers will remember that Ian Paisley also came out against line dancing, declaring:

“The dancing of the world, hugging the other sex, set to music, is sensual, and clearly caters to the lust of the flesh, “

I think this might be the only issue the GAA and Ian Paisley ever agreed on.