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.