Irish composer Bill Whelan has revealed how he got an insurance company to put up the money to record Riverdance when he couldn’t persuade RTE or any major label to release it as a single.

In an interview for the new book What’s Another Year? Ireland’s First Five Decades at Eurovision by Mick Lynch, Whelan tells how what was a seven minute demo to be played as the interval act at Eurovision in 1994 would become some of the most iconic music in Irish history.

“I wanted to do a 7-minute single and everyone came back to me, everyone said ‘look seven-minute singles don’t happen, there’s no money in this except the cost of running it and there’s no chance of making its money back,’ so that was my response from the music industry and I was really frustrated.”

Whelan refused to give up.

“I had done something the previous year for insurance company Church & General... there was a guy who ran the PR there Damien O Neill. I called Damien and I said ‘I’ve a project here that needs money’ and he asked ‘what is it?’ and I said ‘it’s a seven-minute single for the Eurovision’ and he said ‘OK, what do you need?’ And I said ‘I need to record it and pay for the orchestra in the studio’ and he said ‘send it over to me.”

The insurance company rang back with good news.

He recounted: ‘Damien said we had a listen, we’re going to put out the single’. He said ‘how much will it cost?’ and I said ‘I’m going to need £10,000 with pressing it, paying the orchestra and releasing...he said ‘ah yeah, we can do that. Can we put a little logo on it?’ (Church and General)

"So he gave me a cheque for £10k, we paid the orchestra and recorded the single.”

Paul McGuinness, U2’s manager then issued the single on a subsidiary of Mother Records called Sun Records, reports the Irish Sun.

After Riverdance aired during the 1994 Eurovision from the Point in Dublin, the single went to Number 1 for an incredible 18 weeks — more weeks at No. 1 than any other single in the history of the Irish charts. 

”The funny thing was when the Eurovision hit and ‘Riverdance’ hit the next day after the contest, we had a single and we would not have had a single if Church & General had not put the money into it. We would not have had a single because RTÉ were not going to put the money into it.

"And we were ready to release it and the fact that ‘Riverdance’ was a single and was available and went into the UK charts it kept the whole ‘Riverdance’ thing alive.

"It was being played on the radio; people had the single and were playing it in their homes. It was something concrete to take away from the Eurovision and that was really very important in that link between the end of Eurovision and when we got out to do that full show.”

Riverdance remains Ireland’s second biggest selling single behind Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute.