The Times We Lived In: Full steam ahead to crush film pirates

First published: August 11th 1984 Photograph by Dermot O’Shea


When you think of movie piracy – or rather, the massive global endeavour that is anti-piracy – this is probably not the kind of image that springs to mind.

Yet here it is, folks: anti-piracy, Irish-style, from 1984. It seems we Irish played a leading role in the struggle against that force of darkness which makes international feature films available for free, thus depriving major studios of large chunks of income and the rest of us of yet another Transformers sequel.

The caption reads: “Over 2,000 pirate video tapes which were confiscated by members of the Irish National Federation Against Copyright Theft, being destroyed by a 1924 John Fowler steam engine in the yard of Keegan’s Builders, Oriel Street, Dublin, yesterday. The engine, restored by Brothers Bill and Ted Keegan in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, ground hundreds of well-known film titles beneath its wheels.”

It’s probably a deliberate move on the photographer’s part that none of those well-known titles is legible – except for one, on which can be read the word “Killing” under a photo of a bearded actor. The Killing Fields, maybe?

The drama of our photo, however, is indisputable. The offending videos, in their tatty cardboard boxes, are lined up in rows of almost military exactness, giving a pair of strong parallel lines through the centre of the shot. On either side of this artificial “railway”, men with sticks stand ready to beat the pathetic rectangles of plastic back into place should they try to escape.

To record the excitement, on the left of the image a bearded man walks toward the camera, tape recorder and microphone in hand, capturing the sound of squashing and scrunching for posterity. The bleakness of the builder’s yard, with its bare concrete walls and collection of metal barrels, adds to the surreal atmosphere.

As for the steam engine, it really is rather magnificent, and ought to be doing something much more glamorous. Perhaps it’s dreaming of a future role in a Thomas the Tank Engine spin-off.

This and other photographs from The Irish Times can be purchased from:

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