Page last updated at 09:18 GMT, Friday, 24 June 2005 10:18 UK

U2 mania for homecoming gigs

U2's homecoming gigs have been described as Dublin's biggest ever entertainment events.

U2 pictured at Twickenham last week
Almost a quarter of a million tickets were sold in less than four hours
Ireland's - and probably the world's - best known band are back in town for three sell-out gigs.

The 82,000 capacity Croke Park is one of the biggest stadia in Europe - bigger than both Old Trafford and the Millennium Stadium - but it is more used to hosting Gaelic football and hurling matches.

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.

Dublin is in the grip of U2 fever, and the huge influx of fans has been great news for hotel owners, publicans, taxi drivers and others.

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

And businesses have been quick to capitalise on this fascination.

The stage being set up at Croke Park
The band's Vertigo tour kicked off in San Diego earlier this year
Hotel space is at a premium, with many fans staying in towns an hour or mores drive from the capital in order to find a bed for the night.

One newspaper reported that hoteliers were charging determined fans double the normal rate, under the headline: "Where the streets have no shame".

However, Dublin tourism chief executive Frank Magee insisted that prices were normal for "high season rates" which would "help subsidise cheap rates at other times".

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.

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

Those lucky enough to have tickets are being promised something special by U2 manager Paul McGuinness

"They are very proud and I'm very proud of them to be home and playing in this magnificent facility to a quarter of a million people," he said.

"That's quite something."

Bono with President Bush
Bono had become a strident campaigner on global issues
Veteran rock journalist Niall Stokes of Hot Press magazine said Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr would still feel they had something to prove.

"There's the particular pressure of being watched by family members and old friends," he said.

"There's an intensity about the Dublin shows which is special. I know that as a band, they always invest that bit extra in ensuring something genuinely special.

"I think we can anticipate U2 at their best."

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.

Croke Park in north Dublin
Croke Park is more used to hosting gaelic football and hurling
Support acts include Northern Ireland heroes Snow Patrol and Ash, on Friday and Monday respectively.

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.

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.

Just five days after the final concert on Monday, the hallowed turf of Croke Park will have to be restored in time for the Leinster hurling final.

Dublin may take longer to recover.

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