Beatlemania, Mods and Hysterical Teenagers – Irish Style

By Ciara Molloy

On 7 November 1963, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr performed two shows in the Adelphi Cinema on Middle Abbey Street to more than 5,000 Irish fans.[i] Mobs of ‘screaming teenage girls’ had greeted previous Beatles’ appearances in Leicester,[ii] and in anticipation of similar incidents in Dublin, Operation Beatles was launched by the Gardaí. All leave in the ‘C’ District was reportedly cancelled,and dozens of Gardaí were stationed on duty in Middle Abbey Street to help keep the peace.[iii]

Despite this Garda presence, ‘near-hysteria’ ensued. Crowds of exuberant teenagers damaged cars parked on Middle Abbey Street, smashed plate-glass windows, and threw fireworks at the Gardaí.[iv] One unfortunate Garda even had a refuse bin emptied over his head ‘to the delight of the frenzied rioters’.[v] The Irish Press described it as ‘the wildest night in Dublin for many years’.[vi]

While both teenage boys and girls were involved in the ‘Beatle Invasion’ of Dublin,[vii] the actions of female teenagers were particularly highlighted. The Irish Press outlined how some ‘hysterical girls’ threw shoes at innocent pedestrians making their way home.[viii] Spotlight commented on how the arrival of the Beatles was characterised by ‘screaming fainting girls’.[ix] In September 1966, New Spotlight compared the screaming of female fans of the Beatles to the screaming that showband stars such as Brendan Bowyer were receiving. [x]

The Beatles Coming out of the Adelphi Cinema. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

A psychiatrist and doctor were asked by New Spotlight to comment on the meaning of such activity. The psychiatrist commented that young girls engaged in such behaviour as ‘a release of pent-up emotions’, while the doctor remarked that ‘screaming at a pop idol is a para-sexual phenomenon’ which possibly indicated ‘a lower IQ’ and was ‘rarely indulged in by the better educated girls.’[xi] The conflation of the female sex, the working class and mental deficiency was particularly noteworthy. The fact that New Spotlight asked a psychiatrist and doctor to comment on such activity also marked the growing influence of the psychogenic image of deviance in 1960s Ireland, which regarded deviant behaviour as a product of mental or emotional disturbance. The overall image of female Beatle fans was one of hysteria, immaturity and mental illness.

The Beatles are generally associated with a youth subculture known as Mods. The Modernist movement has been described as ‘the first distinctively British youth cult’ and emerged in Soho in 1959.[xii] It initially featured middle-class teenagers united by a love of modern jazz, but by the early 1960s more working-class youths became involved and rhythm ‘n’ blues and American soul were added to the Mod musical repertoire.[xiii] Mods were stylistically distinctive and their typical wardrobe included three-buttoned suits, cycling clothes, bowling shoes, Hush Puppies, Levi jeans and polo shirts.[xiv]

A note of caution must be struck, however, in attributing Beatlemania to the Mod subculture in Ireland, as an explicit connection was not drawn between these phenomena within Irish press coverage in November 1963. Granted, writing in the Evening Herald in October 1963, Tony Boland (owner of Sound City beat club on Burgh Quay) described the Beatles as ‘the most popular beat group, not only in Britain but all over Europe’ which aligned them with the beat scene and by corollary with the Mod subculture.[xv]

However, the young women who reacted so exuberantly to The Beatles’ November 1963 performances were rarely described by the Irish press as ‘Mods’; rather, the generic term ‘teenagers’ was applied to them. Indeed, the Beatles were only an ambiguously Mod band – when asked whether he was a Mod or Rocker in 1964, Ringo Starr famously stated that he was a ‘Mocker’.[xvi] It is possible that the hysteria of female teenagers may have been retrospectively interpreted in the mid-1960s as evidence of the immoral conduct of female Mods. It would be disingenuous however to attempt to draw direct parallels between the subculture and Irish Beatlemania.

Nevertheless, Ireland’s experience of Beatlemania demonstrates the emergence of a distinctly international youth culture during the 1960s,[xvii] and also indicates a profound sense of adult bewilderment surrounding the behaviour and motivations of teenagers. As the Cork Examiner wrote in November 1963, ‘The teenagers here lost their heads completely and the scenes both inside and outside the Adelphi cinema were a discredit to the rising generation. Was it all just an excuse for letting off steam? It could hardly have been the Beatles’ music because apparently no one could hear it with all the screaming and shouting.’[xviii]

Plaque on Wall of the former site of Adelphi Cinema

[i] Evening Herald, 7 November 1963, p.1.

[ii] Cork Examiner, 21 October 1963, p.4.

[iii] Evening Herald, 6 November 1963, p.1.

[iv] Irish Independent, 8 November 1963, p.1.

[v] Irish Press, 8 November 1963, p.1.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Irish Press, 8 November 1963, p.5.

[viii] Irish Press, 8 November 1963, p.1.

[ix] Spotlight, Vol.1(9): December 1963, p.6.

[x] New Spotlight, September 1966, p.20.

[xi] New Spotlight, September 1966, p.20.

[xii] Richard Weight. 2015. Mod: From Bebop to Britpop, Britain’s Biggest Youth Movement. London: Vintage Books, p.2.

[xiii] Marty McAllister and Adam Cooper. 2011. To Be Someone: Mods in Ireland. Winslow: Heavy Soul Records.

[xiv] Terry Rawlings. 2000. Mod: A Very British Phenomenon. London: Omnibus Press, p.57.

[xv] Evening Herald, 29 October 1963, p.10.

[xvi] James Perone. 2009. Mods, Rockers, and the Music of the British Invasion. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, p.65.

[xvii] See Carole Holohan. 2018. Reframing Irish Youth in the Sixties. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

[xviii] Cork Examiner, 9 November 1963, p.8.