Limerick was the making of U2

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U2 pictured in the Stella Ballroom after winning Limerick Civic Week's Battle of the Bands Competition. Photo: Michael Cowhey.

LIMERICK may not be the City of Blinding Lights, but this weekend will see it remembered as the centre of a significant moment in musical history.

Saturday March 18 marks the 45th anniversary of “the exact point” that U2 became the band we know today, when they won the battle of the bands at the Stella Ballroom during Limerick Civic Week 1978.

The Stella Ballroom on Shannon Street was the place the Dublin band performed for the first time as a four piece under the name U2, having previously been known as The Hype.

Despite winning, the band were relatively inexperienced and were not generally regarded locally as being the best on the night.

Speaking to the Limerick Post ahead of the anniversary, local author Brian O’Connell said that a lot of people who were there didn’t understand the judges’ decision.

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“A lot of the rock groups who were playing were thinking ‘how could these have possibly won this competition?’ Because they [U2] would admit themselves they hadn’t perfected their musical skills, Bono was completely hoarse, but they won.”

Master of Ceremonies on that famous night was Limerick DJ Micky Mac (Michael McNamara) who said that U2’s difference was what set them apart, as well as the shift in musical taste at the time.

“I felt there was something very special about them. They were young and they were the only band that played original stuff and I really thought, ‘yes, they’re different’.”

“We’re talking 1978, there was a real anti-disco thing going on. People were getting a bit tired of Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. I think that the world was waiting for the likes of U2,” he told the Limerick Post.

“They were just like The Beatles. They just gelled. I think it’s very important to say, The Beatles only lasted seven years. U2 are now 45 years old.”

Mr O’Connell, who is currently in the process of writing a book about that fateful night in the Stella, said that despite U2 perhaps not being the best band on the night, they did something different.

“Because they were playing punk music, which was fast, which was short, which in some cases isn’t too melodic, a lot of people, particularly from this part of the country or the west of Ireland, wouldn’t have heard this kind of music before and would have had no regard for it.

In May 2011, a plaque was unveiled outside the Stella commemorating “the exact point of becoming U2”, a phrase coined by Adam Clayton.

The plaque was erected by Limerick Civic Trust, which Brian O’Connell was involved with. He believes more should be made of Limerick’s link to the biggest band ever to come out of Ireland.

“There are people all over the world for whom U2 is the best group they’ve ever heard and they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to hear their music. If [the Stella Ballroom] was more widely known, it would attract people to do a U2 trail.

“You could literally do a short U2 trail of Limerick, it would be of enormous benefit,” he suggested.