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.