Thursday 12 January 2012

Real life in the rare 'oul times

During my recent festive musing á la recherche du temps perdue, I was intrigued by the reaction to a posting on YouTube. It was film footage from a car being driven around Dublin in 1974.
I was at UCD back then, so I studied the YouTube film carefully, wondering if I might even spot myself amongst those young longhairs striding up Grafton Street in flared jeans. I didn’t but I admit I was momentarily excited by a glimpse of a wee white Renault 4 that might well have been my first car if I could remember the registration: yet in 1974 it would another four years until Renée and I met for the first time and, alas, fleetingly before that bust-up at Pearse Street/Westland Row.
My interest seemed nothing however, compared to all the Facebook shares and glowing comments online about 1974 Dublin, particularly from those who were not even born at the time.
They gushed about Dublin in the rare oul times, a wonderful place where we cruised through streets with little or no traffic alongside footpaths thronged by healthy lean people with real jobs out shopping long before the ‘credit crisis’.
I had already encountered the YouTube film before it made the ‘What’s Hot, What’s Not’ list in the 30 December Irish Times magazine with a recommendation to ‘check it out’.
So now that the festivities are done, dusted and we’re into our remembrance decade, let me burst that bubble while I’m at it:
• There were traffic jams in the 1970s, mostly caused by atrocious driving by unlicensed/untested motorists, although most of us could not afford cars and had to rely on sporadic bus services without bus lanes, much less DART or Luas alternatives.
• This YouTube sequence was probably filmed during the First Oil Crisis when OPEC turned off the taps and you had to beg, borrow or steal petrol/diesel to drive anywhere.
• Those skinny people squeezed onto much narrower footpaths probably had no access to credit and their wages and salaries were a pittance; hence their half-starved looks. Even the very top executive jobs in the Irish Times were advertised in a section headed ‘£5,000-plus’!
• For a considerable period in 1974, Flann O’Brien’s final resort of ‘a pint of plain’ was denied to the working man by a prolonged strike in the Guinness brewery.
• Finally, 1974 was the year when bombs devastated Dublin and Monaghan on a day with a combined toll of 33 lives. Bombs were a feature of life and death in Dublin, along the Border and of course in the North during those worst years of the Troubles.

Yet it wasn’t all bleak and hopeless in 1974.
• I turned 21 and was dawdling through my second year as an Arts student at UCD, having completed the NCTJ course in Journalism at Rathmines College. Journalism was still a craft to be learnt, not a degree bestowed by some college.
• I was about to spend a wonderful working summer in London with a big bunch of mates blissfully unaware of what was befalling the Guildford Four.
• And hey, I hadn’t a prayer of driving any car though Dublin until I was in paid employment, which roughly coincided with the next Oil Crisis coming down the pipeline.
Happy days!


  1. Darach, I just discovered your blog a whole week after this posting and did a quick catch-up for those composed in 2012. And what a treat. 1974 was a particularly significant one for me - I left Ireland for Canada a week after St. Patrick's Day but I found myself image-ing the Dublin of that time and as you say it was not so wonderful.

    On the many centenary celebrations this decade: You are so right about the need for wariness in going headlong into commemorations without some serious circumspection. You captured the essence of the pusillanimity displayed at the event you attended.

    Both populations and governments in Ireland would be well served in garnering (with remuneration) your superb knowledge of the history and sociology of these events about to be centurian-ized (to coin a phrase).

    You referenced also the beginnings of RTE some 50 years ago. I remember watching the opening celebrations (outside the GPO) from my cloistered home in Tallaght and observing the innocence of it all - kids throwing snowballs at the presenters! And there was the not-so-innocent appointment of Dominican Romuald J. Dodd as religion adviser to RTE over the preference of John Charles' for one of his diocesan specially trained media clerics. Shortly after a second religion adviser was appointed - a Church of Ireland cleric - who was described a "the man who got even with Dodd".

    As the Doms were "well in" with RTE I remember making many a hurried taxi trip from Tallaght to Montrose with several Dominican confreres on many Sundays (when they couldn't get anyone else) to be part of the background choir in the fifteen (?) minutes meditation after the 6 o'clock pm Angelus.

    Looking forward to being continually enlightened by your blog. - SeánOS in Kitchener, Canada

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  3. Due to my technical inadequacies I double posted - Sean

  4. I remember it well, UCD '74 , our basement flat on Wellington Road was a stone's throw from Kavanagh's Raglan Road but no matter how hard I try I just cant find the romantic Dublin in the mists of time. My memory is that there were cars but we never had a chance of getting into one, at least one that moved especially hitching back to Donegal on a miserable Friday evening in search of a hot meal and warm bed. Generally our basement flat was as it had been for the previous century or two , a sort of black and white image - no heat mostly, sporadic electricity, rarely any food of substance, a fridge that we dared never open, a banjaxed telephone phone that never rang, no radio or tv . Many lectures in theatre L were missed because they were before mid-day or I had spent my bus fare on cigarettes and beer in Searsons . I even managed to fall through a window ending up with a plaster on my right arm so exams were dictated to a typist in Admin I'm convinced to this day I passed because she couldn't understand my northern accent but dared not admit that. Still Belfield Bar portakabin was a delight, soggy carpet and all.....weren't we fortunate that there were no credit cards on offer back then ???