1979 The Year That Was


TIMELINE:January to June


JANUARY 1ST:China adopts its one-child policy as a temporary measure to limit China’s population growth. Almost 30 years later, the government estimates that it has prevented 300 to 400 million births.

JANUARY 8TH:Fifty people are killed when an explosion destroys the French oil tanker Betelgeuseoff Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay. Another life is lost during the salvage operation when a Dutch diver dies.

JANUARY 16TH:The Shah of Iran is forced to leave the country he ruled for 37 years and the Ayatollah Khomeini is poised to make a triumphant return in February.

JANUARY 30TH:Blondie have their first of two 1979 number ones with Heart of Glass. Sunday Girlreaches the top spot in May.


FEBRUARY 1ST:Wearing of car seat-belts becomes compulsory for the driver and front seat passengers. A day later, the National Road Safety Association estimates that seat-belt wearing in this category has increased from 12 to 80 per cent.

FEBRUARY 9TH:Nottingham Forest football club announces Britain’s first £1 million transfer deal. England forward Trevor Francis leaves Birmingham city in the deal with Brian Clough’s side. Francis will go on to secure two European Cup victories in a row for Nottingham Forest.

FEBRUARY 19TH:A national postal strike begins and will last until June 25th, costing an estimated £140 million revenue shortfall for the first five months of the year.

FEBRUARY 20TH:A loyalist gang, including a group of men known as the Shankill Butchers, receives 42 life sentences for 19 murders. The court hears that the gang had roamed Belfast at night, ambushing Catholics to torture and kill them.


MARCH 9TH:PAYE workers across the country take to the streets to protest against the tax system, and this is followed by a major demonstration in Dublin less than two weeks later.

MARCH 13TH:The European Monetary System comes into force and Ireland joins. More than two weeks later, the punt’s parity with sterling ends. The EMS is the forerunner of the Economic and Monetary Union, which will lead to the establishment of the euro.

MARCH 22ND:British ambassador to the Netherlands Richard Sykes is assassinated by the IRA in The Hague. The IRA explodes 24 bombs across Northern Ireland on the same day. Eight days later, the INLA assassinates Airey Neave, a British war hero and Conservative politician, in London.

MARCH 26TH:The Camp David peace treaty is signed by Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at the White House. Sadat is immediately isolated in the Arab world, with foreign ministers in 18 countries moving to cut diplomatic and economic ties.


APRIL 9TH: Kramer vs Krameris the major winner at the Oscars, taking five awards including those for best actor (Dustin Hoffman), best supporting actress (Meryl Streep) and best picture. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Nowreceives eight nominations but only gets two awards, for sound and cinematography.

APRIL 14TH:Three teenage boys are killed in an explosion at the Glen of Imaal in Wicklow and several of their friends are hospitalised. The boys are part of a youth group from Lucan, Co Dublin.

APRIL 17TH:Four RUC officers are killed by an IRA bomb in Bessbrook, Co Armagh. Some 18 years later, Bessbrook will also be the scene of the last killing by the IRA of a British soldier on active duty in Northern Ireland.


MAY 3RD:The Conservative Party wins the British general election with a 43-seat majority, and Margaret Thatcher becomes the UK’s first woman prime minister. Humphrey Atkins becomes Northern secretary.

MAY 11TH:The final episode of The Riordansis filmed and many cast members voice concern at the sudden axing. The last episode airs on RTÉ 1 on May 28th. Its 14-year reign gives us controversies over issues such as contraception and inheritance rights, and also introduces a promising young actor called Gabriel Byrne.

MAY 21ST:There are riots on the streets of San Francisco, following the acquittal of Dan White on the charge of first degree murder of mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. White is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter of both victims.

MAY 31st:RTÉ introduces a rock and pop radio channel called RTÉ Radio 2 in a bid to draw the youth audience away from pirate radio. Like Clockworkby the Boomtown Rats is the first song on air, played by up-and-coming DJ Larry Gogan.


JUNE 1ST:Protesters opposing the building of civic offices on the site of Viking excavations in Dublin’s Wood Quay occupy the area in a last minute bid to protect the site. They include campaigner FX Martin, poet Thomas Kinsella and writer Mary Lavin.

JUNE 7TH:Ireland’s first direct elections to the European Parliament result in five seats for Fianna Fáil, four for Fine Gael, four for Labour and two for Independents.


Tomás Ó Fiaich from Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, is created cardinal, having served as Archbishop of Armagh and president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.


January 3rd: Hotelier Conrad Hilton (91).

January 31st: Artist Maurice McGonigal (79).

February 2nd: Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious dies of a heroin overdose (21).

March 4th: Christy Ring (58).

June 11th: John Wayne (72).

October 17th: Humorist SJ Perelman (75).

November 1st: Former first lady Mamie Eisenhower (almost 83).


January 1st: Actor James McAvoy. January 20th: Singer Will Young.

Jan 21st: Rugby player Brian O’Driscoll

Feb 19th: Footballer Clinton Morrison.

Mar 2nd: Footballer Damien Duff.

March 30th: Singer Norah Jones.

April 19th: Actor Kate Hudson.

September 8th: Singer Pink.

December 14th: Footballer Michael Owen.