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More than 80,000 fans reluctantly left Slane Castle on Saturday night after witnessing a U2 concert that confirmed the band's status as the one of the biggest rock acts in the world, writes Seán McCárthaigh.

Twenty years after their last appearance in the famous Boyneside venue, U2 were given the sort of homecoming that most other rock groups can only dream about. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, the Irish leg of the band's Elevation tour became a tribute to Bono's father, Bob Hewson, who died on Tuesday after a long cancer illness. Just over 24 hours after burying the man who gave him his love of music, Bono acknowledged the genuine warmth of the fans as the group's two-hour set highlighted the almost spiritual bond that exists between U2 and their followers.

Bono dedicated Kite to his father, as the diminutive star introduced the song by thanking God "for taking my old man away from his sickness". The mood lightened later when the singer recalled U2's first Slane concert in 1981 when they supported Thin Lizzy. "We were crap, actually," smiled Bono, as he was joined on the elliptical catwalk by the other members of the band for a brief version of Lizzy's Dancin' in the Moonlight. The good humour was kept up as Bono introduced his colleagues to the chanting crowd. "Wearing the No 7 shirt is the Edge," laughed the singer, poking fun at the sequinned number on the guitarist's T-shirt. Drummer Larry Mullen was hailed as the person responsible for the past two decades. "He's the man who started this band and, on a daily basis, may finish it," joked Bono. Bass player Adam Clayton was described as U2's "poshest member".

Among the large number of celebrities enjoying the party atmosphere were Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with his daughter, Georgina, and partner Celia Larkin, former Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam, F1 drivers Eddie Irvine and David Coulthard, singers Brian Kennedy, Samantha Mumba and the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon.

The huge security operation which saw more than 700 gardaí on duty in Slane was a success, with only a few arrests for minor offences. Earlier in the day, the large crowd basked in the unexpectedly warm sunshine, listening to support acts JJ72, Coldplay and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, in truth, there was only one group they wanted to see. U2's eventual arrival on stage at 8.30pm was appropriately heralded by Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back in Town. As they launched into the opening number, Elevation, thousands of fans pogoed on the spot.

Bono spent most of the concert strutting the catwalk, even throwing himself off the platform as he bodysurfed during Until the End of the World. Above the stage, four large black and white video screens provided individual close-ups of each member of the band.

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