Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Saturday, 25 June 2005 10:51 UK

Excitement builds for U2 Dublin gigs

By James Helm
BBC Dublin correspondent

Actors dressed as U2 were on the streets of Dublin
U2 bring their Vertigo world tour to their home city of Dublin this weekend, with three concerts at Croke Park, the first of which was on Friday night.

Their familiar faces are on the front covers of newspapers and magazines, and their music seems to be blaring out of every passing car.

Ireland's - and probably the world's - best known band are back in town, for what U2's loyal fans might call "a sort of homecoming".

When Coldplay, the group some see as pretenders to U2's throne, played in Dublin this week, frontman Chris Martin rounded off the night by telling everyone to enjoy U2 this weekend - "still the best band in the world", he smiled, to cheers.

U2's manager Paul McGuinness
U2's manager Paul McGuinness at Croke Park ahead of the gig

Even for a band enjoying its third decade of global success, this trip back to the city where they grew up and still live is a bit special.

Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr are playing three gigs in four days at Croke Park, the magnificent sports stadium in the heart of Dublin. Each will be watched by 82,000 fans.

The tickets - nearly quarter of a million of them - went in less than four hours. It's been reported here that a British fan paid more than $8,000 (4,392) for a pair of standing tickets last week.

The visit is part of the band's Vertigo tour, which kicked off in San Diego in the US earlier this year, and which will see them play a punishing 114 shows around the world.

Revered home

And around the world is where the fans are coming from to see U2 play on home soil.

More than 24 hours before the first gig, fans from Sweden, America, Italy and the UK were milling about outside the stadium. Hotel space is at a premium, with many fans staying in towns an hour or more's drive from the capital in order to find a bed for the night.

For hotel owners, publicans, taxi drivers and others, the huge influx is great news.

The revered home of Ireland's favourite sports, Gaelic football and hurling, has been transformed mid-season, with thick matting put down to protect the turf from 82,000 pairs of feet.

U2's Bono performing at a recent concert at Twickenham

The stadium director said that hosting the concerts would be like organising three, back-to-back All-Ireland finals - the showpiece events of the Irish sporting year.

The last time U2 played in Ireland was back in 2001, but their appeal endures, as the excitement surrounding their current tour shows.

Bono's campaigning work on debt and poverty issues may have made them more than just a rock band, but the music still pulls in the crowds.

'Operation U2'

As the vast stage was being erected, U2's manager Paul McGuinness told reporters that it was great to be back in the band's "favourite city".

There's a pride here for these Dublin boys made extremely good, and who have kept close links with the city as their wealth and fame have mushroomed.

So the stage is ready, the fans are flying in, and the tickets are sold. The Irish Times newspapers talked of "Operation U2" being put in place as the city prepares for 250,000 concert-goers.

For anyone who's not a fan of Bono and co, it might be a good time to quietly slip out of Dublin.

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