The National Song Contest 1981 was staged on the first of March at RTÉ Studios in Dublin. The show was Presented by popular Irish host, Mike Murphy. Eight finalists took part, with female trio Sheeba winning the Contest with the song "Horoscopes", written by Joe Kelly and Jim Burkett.
Sheeba had previously appeared at the National finals in 1978, while member Maxi had performed for Ireland at the 1973 Eurovision finals. They were one of two female trios in the Contest - the other being The Duskey Sisters. Male/female groups were represented by opening act Tara and closing act Karen Black and The Nevada - the latter being a famous recording act in Ireland at the time under the line up of Roy Taylor, Karen Black and The Nevada. Their song "My Pet Parrot" was largely a novelty song (featuring a man dressed as a Parrot playing trombone (whom Black later claimed was drunk during the performance!)) and became heavily played on Irish radio. Tony Kenny was also a famous artist in Ireland at the time and had released many hit singles, as well as performing a number of times in the National finals. Nicola Kerr was known at the time for being a member of the current line-up of UK pop group (and former Eurovision entrants) The New Seekers. The remaining two contestants were also solo females, Helen Jordan and Sylvia McFadden (who received 'nul points' with her own composition).
The show's result was a surprise as "My Pet Parrot" had been touted as the favourite to win before the Contest. The Contest closed with all the Contestants performing Barry Manilow's "I Write The Songs" on stage as the credits rolled.