1970s Ireland: Where would we be if Dana hadn't won the Eurovision?
A decade of disputesThe 1970s was the decade of industrial disputes, student and PAYE workers’ marches and – almost unheard of today – frequent and crippling strikes.
“There always seemed to be something kicking off,” says broadcaster and musician Ferdia Mac Anna, who started his band, Rocky de Valera the Gravediggers, in the late 1970s.
“You were surrounded by tribes making their point of view, but you were also surrounded by tribes asserting their own identity. As a student, you’d only go on marches if it was on between half two and half three, because that was when the pubs closed for holy hour. During the bus strike, you’d hitch and you’d get a lift into town. People didn’t have much, but they were generous with what they had.”
Declan Kiberd, professor of Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, recalls the march of 200,000 PAYE workers on March 20th, 1979. “I watched the march from Burgh Quay and it seemed to take hours to go past, and then I joined it at its tail. People had more spirit in those days and protested when they knew a system was unfair. It was a dignified and overwhelming statement, which sent a clear message to political elites. If only we had that spirit now.”
Burning of the British embassy
On February 2nd, 1972, an angry crowd of 20,000 protesters burned down the British embassy on Merrion Square in retaliation for the Bloody Sunday killing of 13 people in Derry three days earlier.
“On the night of Bloody Sunday, we were playing in St Patrick’s in Drumcondra,” says Barry Devlin, “and the news started filtering through to the hall. First there was word there were casualties, then it just got worse. Because there were no tweets in those days, the news was just filtering through slowly, and it took a couple of days before people realised just what had happened, and the barbarity of it.”
The Miami Showband killings
On the morning of July 31st, three members of the Miami Showband, on their way home from a gig in Banbridge, Co Down, were shot dead by gunmen at a bogus checkpoint near Newry. “There’d been a belief among people playing in the North that you don’t shoot the piano player, that there was a diplomatic immunity afforded to the musicians in the transit van,” says musician and filmmaker Barry Devlin, who regularly toured Northern Ireland with his band, Horslips, at the time.
“Coming home from that same ballroom, which was the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, about four or five months earlier, we’d been pursued by a car, which we’d eluded. We assumed we would get a hiding if they caught us, but who knows what would have happened. It changed things completely for everyone.”
On September 29th, 1979, Pope John Paul II landed in Dublin for a three-day visit and said the country’s first Papal Mass in front of one million people at the Phoenix Park. “I remember how completely empty all he streets of Dublin were,” says Kiberd. “I cycled across the city from South Circular Road to the park and passed less than a dozen people out walking (including two famous, agnostic poets!). At the time, I thought the huge turn-out was a sign of religious revival, but Fr Peter Connolly of Maynooth told me afterwards it was a mark of crisis, because of the decline in religious practice and vocations over the previous decade. True enough, no pope had ever been sent for in the older days of unquestioning faith. Fr Connolly made an interesting prophecy to me: ‘The Irish often junk core values. If religion goes in Ireland, it will go so fast nobody will even know whats happening.’ I often thought of that remark in the subsequent decades – he was a shrewd prophet as well as one of the finest priests of his day.”