Fred Crowe, 64: ‘I was one of the first people in Ireland with an email address’

The Generations series, charting the experience of Irish people through the decades, by Rosita Boland, reaches over 60-year-olds in Saturday's Irish Times. Here we preview the voices from that decade with Fred Crowe from Clontarf

Generations series: Rosita Boland speaks to Fred Crowe who has lived in Clontarf for most of his life and has been an early and enthusiastic user of technology and computing. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:03

To visit the full generations page click here

Fred Crowe lives in Clontarf, Dublin

When my mother, Frances, was nine, her mother died on Christmas Day. Her father died when she was 11. She was raised by her four brothers, but she didn’t get much education. One by one her brothers died of heart failure or pneumonia or TB. They were all dead before 30.

My mother was from Mountmellick. She met my father, John, in a B&B in Portlaoise. The landlady set the two of them up. Then her sister, who had two children, died at 34. She never really talked about it, but she had lost her whole family.

One of my earliest memories is of going to visit those two cousins, at some kind of home in Kilkenny, and being shown into a parlour. Their father couldn’t take them. I don’t know why. I was about six. They were six and seven. I remember they were whispering, and I said, “Why are you whispering?” and they said, “We’re not allowed to make noise.”

They stayed in that home until they were 12, and then they went to Artane industrial school. They came to visit us sometimes on Sundays here in Clontarf. We had no perception of what was happening in Artane. Nowadays my siblings cannot understand why our family didn’t take them in.

My mother really valued education, because she had had so little of it. I broke my ankle when I was a child, and my mother brought me to school on a tricycle. My father wanted me to become an architect; that was his vision for me. I did commerce instead, in UCD. I graduated in 1971.

I met Niamh at the community centre in Dollymount. We met on the committee of the youth club there. We got married in 1973 and have five children. We bought this four-bedroomed house in Clontarf in 1982 for £50,000, and we’re still here.

I remember inflation being so high in the 1970s and lots of strikes. In 1976 my job was moved to Youghal, where I worked for Seafield Gentex, a big textile group. There was a bank strike that year. I remember going to Waterford city and going to one of the main shops with a cheque for £100,000 and picking up a bag of cash for the same amount to pay the wages back in Youghal. There was no police security or anything. I was on my own. I just put the cash in a Dunnes Stores bag in the boot and drove off. You had to find ways of overcoming the bank strike.

We wouldn’t go near the North in those days. A few times I had to go to Belfast. It seemed like it was Beirut, but it was only a 100 miles away. The only restaurants I remember were those in hotels and the fish-and-chip shops. There were no ethnic restaurants other than a few Chinese ones, but people would say about them, “I wouldn’t eat there. It’s not chicken they’re serving, it’s seagull.” There was no such thing as yogurt, there was no pasta or pizza, and it was Cheddar cheese or nothing.

In 1978 I finally qualified as an accountant and became a financial controller at Stokes Kennedy Crowley, which is now KPMG. I never set out with the intention of being self-employed, but going to work at SKC changed all that.

I always had a great interest in computers, and I convinced my boss to get an Apple II computer, in 1981. I started programming for tax calculations. By 1984 I had an email address. I think I was one of the first people in the country to get an Ireland On-Line email address. I used to go round telling people someday we’d all have email addresses, and they’d laugh at me.

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