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"Product RED cannot replace activism. For anyone who thinks I'm going to retire to the boardroom and stop banging my fist on the door of No. 10, I'm sorry to disappoint you." — Bono

Heroes'' welcome as the boys are back in town

- June 25, 2005

by Tom Peterkin

80,000 descend on Croke Park to see U2 play on their home turf for the first time in four years. Tom Peterkin reports

U2 made a triumphant homecoming to Dublin last night when they played the first of three concerts in front of 80,000 fans at Croke Park.

There were chaotic scenes when "the biggest band in the world" came back to the city where Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam first began rehearsing together more than 25 years ago as teenagers at Mount Temple school.

Midway through their Vertigo world tour, which has already grossed 250 million in ticket sales, U2 performed before an ecstatic audience at their first gig in Ireland for four years.

The 240,000 tickets for the three shows were sold out within three and a half hours of going on sale and there have been reports of them exchanging hands for nearly 1,000 on the black market.

Demand was so great that the third show was added.

Hotels were fully booked within a few hours of the gig being announced with some hoteliers trebling their rates. One fan reportedly paid more than 900 for a room in a three-star hotel on the outskirts of the city.

The concert, at the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, took place less than a mile from Dandelion Market, where the band once dreamed of superstardom as they struggled to make ends meet during their early gigs.

Traffic came to a standstill as fans, some of whom had been queuing since the previous day to secure the best spots, descended on the stadium in their thousands.

Trains into the city were mobbed, as were the extra buses put on by Bus Eireann. People travelled from abroad and all over Ireland for the event. An estimated 30,000 from Northern Ireland made the journey.

Scores of roadies, engineers and sound technicians worked for days to transform the stadium into a massive stage complete with 28-metre towers, a 250,000-watt sound system and 10,000 lights.

The band, whose last appearance in Ireland was during their Elevation Tour, are estimated to make 1 million per performance.

Last night the four musicians were given a Garda escort to Croke Park. Helicopters were on standby in case the traffic was too intense.

Paul McGuinness, U2's manager, said: "Playing Dublin is always extra excitement, extra pressure. It's great to be playing this magnificent stadium. There is a gladiatorial aspect to playing the outdoor shows of this type in comparison to the smaller places like Madison Square Garden."

Around half of the songs played came from U2's most recent two albums How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can't Leave Behind. The rest of the programme came from their repertoire of classics. The content is expected to change slightly for the next two gigs.

Last night the band was supported by Snow Patrol and the Radiators. Tonight's support acts will be the Thrills and Paddy Casey with Ash and the Bravery providing the additional entertainment on Monday night.

Jake Berry, the production director, said that the Dublin visit was always going to be a highlight of the tour, despite the special modifications necessary to protect the Croke Park pitch.

"It's fabulous, how can we not be here?" he said.

"Everybody wanted to be here, at the right stadium in the right city at the right time. It's a fantastic setting, it's like you're meant to be here.

"The stage is in great shape. Our guys started building on Monday, as the dimensions are different from normal. Gaelic pitches aren't the same as the soccer fields we usually use. Irish guys play a special game here.

"The GAA guys didn't want us to spoil the grass - it's sacrosanct and we don't want to mess with it.

"So we had to build back into Hill 16. U2 want to leave the place as they found it."

The sell-out tour opened on March 28 in San Diego will go through Europe before closing back in North America on December 19 in Portland.

One U2 fan, Martin Burgel flew from his home in Cologne, Germany, just a few hours before the band went on stage.

He said he had waited for four weeks to get tickets for last night's concert.

Mr Burgel said Dublin was a "very nice city" and added that he was thrilled to be in his idols' home town.

"It's the best thing in the world," he said.

"I think this is one of the biggest days for me."

By the time the last notes have been played at their last concert 3.3 million people will have seen the band live at 110 shows paying a total of 220 million.

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