Dublin : What a difference 30 years makes!

If you are depressed by the economy today, Damian Corless’ look back at life in the Irish capital 30 years ago should cheer you up no end.

If the past is a different country, Dublin in the summer of 1980 was Gaza with added rock festivals.

There was nothing romantic about the foul smell wafting through the city streets from the Liffey. Despite a £25m war chest to fix the problem, factories upstream continued to spew out gloopy effluents that clogged the drainage and treatment works beneath the river.

Dublin’s toxic smog was so notorious that the New York Times ran a lengthy feature, noting “it sometimes invades Dublin to such a degree that night appears to fall by midday”.

The smog was self-inflicted. As oil prices spiralled in the 1970s, governments urged householders to switch to burning coal.

The quays flanking the Liffey resembled two rows of rotten teeth, soot black and full of demolished gaps. Urban decay blighted the city centre, which fell quiet after pub chucking out — apart from the barks of security dogs and the shuffle of winos.

In contrast with today, industrial unrest was common place, liberal Ireland was glint in a Eurocrat’s eye and we’d yet to learn that protectionism doesn’t work very well for a tiny economy for whom self-sufficiency means an agrarian economy –

Strikes were commonplace. The country was recovering from a marathon strike by postmen and telephonists that had crippled business and sent many firms to the wall.

The waiting list to have a phone installed stretched to years, which partly explains the continued popularity of CB radio, with pretend truckers meeting weekly in Dalkey.

The Gay Rights Movement had not just a phone, but a ‘Gay Switchboard’. They didn’t have an address, however, just a PO box number. Being gay was illegal and dangerous. Dublin’s one openly gay meeting place — the National Gay Federation on Fownes St — was a target for biggoted thuggery.

In some ways, 1980 bears a striking likeness to 2010.

New Taoiseach Charles Haughey had opened the year with his “we are living beyond our means” speech. There were cuts in public services and embargos on appointments.

Like today, those in state care were among the first to suffer. After a rotting ceiling collapsed on a sleeping patient in St Brendan’s Hospital, then Health Minister Michael Woods stated: “In the difficult economic circumstances prevailing, it is necessary to impose constraints on public expenditure.”

One headline summed up the message from government as: The Cure — Work Harder, Avoid Strikes And Buy Irish.

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  • lamhdearg

    Yes but for those of us whom only visited infrequently, You could get a decent pint pulled by someone who knew how and it did not cost the earth.

  • willis


    What is a factory?

  • Mack

    “It’s a place where Chinese people work.”


    What is work?

  • Gaza with added rock festivals.

    I think the people of Gaza would yearn for conditions like Dublin in the 1980s.

  • old school

    I doubt there were many Dubliners in debt to the tune of hundreds of thousands, to the banks in 1980.
    Personal debt makes today WORSE than 1980. Those living in 1980 could job on a plane to Germany or New York in search of work. Today we are all slaves to the banks.
    The Celtic Tiger destroyed Ireland. The purge of this recession may just save it.

  • The Impartial Observer

    Great article!

    I never knew that Courtney Love had lived in Dublin as a teenager!

  • Alan Maskey

    1980: Thatcher had just finished off trade unionism in Britain; Thatcher was killing Irish republicans; Thatcher was slaughtering Argentineans to stay in power. Now it is the turn of Arabs and Afghans. What else has changed? Old School makes good points. A silly article.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    Ah it’s not a bad old town, Dublin Town and it’s a vast improvement today compared to 30 years ago. It’s now multicultural, cosmopolitan, optimistic, architectually enhanced, etc… compared to those dark old days of yore.

    Here are some great new additions, since 1980 ….





  • Greenflag

    For anyone interested in an overview of the period Colm Keane’s book ‘The Jobs Crisis’ is a good read . All the usual suspects are heard in this Thomas Davis lecture series from Garret Fitzgerald to Mike Allen as well as Crotty , Cassells, O’Tuathaigh , Lee , Walsh , O’Toole and Halligan ,Kennedy and Walley with J.K. Galbraith bringing in the world perspective.

    Corless is more than careless with his analogies . His comment re Gaza is neither accurate nor appropriate nor warranted . I don’t recall the citizens of Dublin being attacked by phosphorous bombs nor a thousand civilians being murdered by an Israeli invasion force .Nor was the city embargoed or cut off from the rest of the world .

    The rest of the article is fair enough but Corless should know that ‘nostalgia’ ain’t what it used to be and it’s no solution for present day problems . Ask any republican dissident or loyalist or even a unionist politician or an ff politician and they will tell you the ‘world ‘ has moved on from those days . There is no USSR and Tricky Dickey Nixon opened up China for starters ?

  • Watcher

    Dublin now at least is a proper European city brimming with culture, events, exhibitions, world class entertainers etc.

    Time for Belfast to get its act together as well…

  • mark

    Nice response , clever !

  • Skintown Lad

    I say more Lovely Girls contests

  • daisy

    Down with that sort of thing

  • Greenflag

    What a difference even 20 years can make .

    Twenty years ago there was an East Germany and a USSR .

    In 20 years the per capita income of Taiwan went from being equal to that of Ghana’s to 25 times that of Ghana’s .

    In 20 years the per capita income of Botswana went from less than half that of Zimbabwe’s to 25 times it’s neighbour .

    In 20 years the per capita income of residents of the Irish Republic went from being 70% of those in Northern Ireland to 150% plus of those in NI .

    20 years the People’s Republic of China was still in an economic limbo waiting to emerge and South Africa was just about getting ready to ditch the apartheid State .

    So who would like to predict 20 years from now ?

    I’ll make two predictions . There may still be a Northern Ireland State but there will definitely not be a North Korea;)

    Oh and there’ll always be an England ;)?

  • sean