How should the moon landing be remembered 50 years on?

Prominent Irish figures recall their memories of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon

Nasa handout photo of astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Photograph: Nasa/PA Wire

Nasa handout photo of astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Photograph: Nasa/PA Wire

 

Mary Coughlan (singer)

What were you doing in 1969?

I was 13 and listening to Radio Luxembourg all the time! Just being a teenager around Galway and attending the Presentation Convent School at the time.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

I remember it very clearly and the excitement of it all. My Da used to bring us outside into the back garden at night to look at the sky and see if we could spot the moon! He used to talk about Sputnik all the time before that.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

In a very strange turn of events, we have a flag in our family that was on the moon. My husband’s grandfather was called Frank Bonadio. He was president of the trade and industrial department of the AFL-CIO which was America’s biggest union and he represented the men who build Cape Canaveral and the Houston space centre. He was given a flag by the men from the Apollo 17 and left it to my children Cian and Clare Bonadio so now that flag is in our house in Wicklow! I don’t think too many other households in the entire world can say that.

Senator David Norris

What were you doing in 1969?

I was then a 24-year-old lecturer in English in Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

What do you remember about the moon landings?

I was in Rossnowlagh Co Donegal with a school friend for a quick break. We were staying at the Sands House Hotel and all the other guests stayed up all night to watch the moon landing. I said I have no intention of losing my sleep, the moon is only a bloody old cinder anyway. There will be nothing to see except the stars and stripes in black and white. So I had a good night’s sleep and heard all the nonsense over breakfast the next day.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

They should be remembered as a remarkable scientific feat and a courageous experiment in human exploration.

Broadcaster Bryan Dobson

What were you doing in 1969?

In July 1969 I was eight years old and a pupil in St Matthews National School, Irishtown, Dublin 4.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

My memory is watching the moon landing on television in my aunt and uncle’s house in Shankill in Co Dublin. It must have been a recording of the event because I believe the actual landing took place in the early hours of the morning of July 21st, 1969 our time. Months later I went to the US embassy in Ballsbridge with my school friend Donald and we were shown a piece of moon rock which was very exciting.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

I saw the documentary Apollo 11 last week and came away enthralled by the ambition, ingenuity and courage of those involved in the Apollo programme but also a little sad because the United States that put human beings on the moon seems to have vanished, perhaps for good. A nation which could find the resources and common purpose to take such an extraordinary “leap for mankind” has turned in on itself at a time when its vision, optimism and self-belief are more needed than ever.

David Moore, Astronomy Ireland chairman

What were you doing in 1969?

I was six and my sister was born on July 18th two days before the moon landing so the Moore household was abuzz with another important arrival!

What do you remember about the moon landings?

I do remember ‘the grown ups’ talking about the moon landing but Armstrong did not his ‘small step’ until 3:56am on Monday morning July 21st and I do not remember being up that late! I did watch future launches and landings but my real interest in astronomy did not start until I was 11 years old. The last mission (Apollo 17) was over when I was just 10.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

I have two answers, a local one and a global one. Local is that Neil Armstrong told me himself that his family came from Fermanagh and moved to USA in the 1800s, so we should remember that the first man on the moon was Irish!

It is the highlight of my career that I got to meet and interview both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. To have shaken the hand of the most famous humans in history was an unbelievable honour and privilege. I can hardly believe it happened, but it did.

On a global level, it was the first time the human race set foot on another world. It showed what the human mind was capable of. If Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are right and they do put a million people on Mars by the end of this century it was the pioneering spirit of Armstrong and Aldrin whose shoulders they are standing on, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who made it happen. It was our first step into the cosmos, a “giant leap” as Neil said. I give talks in schools all over Ireland and I tell the children there’s no reason why an Irish child could not be the first person on Mars and even if they don’t work in space themselves they’ll know plenty of people who do by the time they are my age.

Nora Owen, former government minister

What were you doing in 1969?

I was just barely a year married. We moved into a rented house in Willow Park off Ballymun Avenue. I was working in a pharmaceutical firm which is now Bristol-Myers Squibb. I had not no children until 1972.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

I remember being mesmerised by them. We stayed up to watch it because my husband and I were both scientists and we were in on all the scientific knowledge. It was a bad television – just 12 inches as I recall.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

I was looking at some of the pictures during the week. Compared to the kind of technology and the superbness of machines nowadays, it looked like a child’s Mecanno set.

You have to remember that in 1969 most of us hadn’t travelled on planes. Even flying in a plane was a big miracle for all of us and suddenly you see these people going up into sky and being able to land on the moon.

We should remember it as showcasing the brilliance and ingenuity of scientists. I remember knowing Pat Norris (an Irish scientist who worked on the Apollo mission) in UCD. He was doing incredible experiments about latitude and measurements of distance. It was a proud moment and I thought, there’s a young man from UCD who was there the same time as I was.

Novelist John Banville

What were you doing in 1969?

I was living in London, awaiting publication of my first book, and thinking of returning to Dublin. I was also about to be married.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

Horribly hot weather, scepticism about the entire Nasa enterprise, and then, to my astonishment, being deeply moved to see one of our species stepping on to another world, albeit a barren one.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

The astronauts were extraordinarily brave – they went to the moon in a cone made of tinfoil – and their conception of America’s greatness was tempered with modesty. Where are their likes today?

Nell McCafferty (writer and broadcaster)

What were you doing in 1969?

I was 25 and secretary of the Derry Labour Party.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

I was living in the Bogside in Derry. The whole street stayed up for it as far as I can remember. I felt very sorry for the man who didn’t get to walk on the moon (Michael Collins). I was very conscious of that.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

I sometimes look up at the moon and wonder if there is life on other planets.

Johnny Gogan, filmmaker

What were you doing in 1969?

On holidays in Mullingar’s Lough Ennell with my father who I remember marvelling at another great technological breakthrough of the time – the tea-bag – as we had breakfast in the confines of our 14-foot caravan.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

Those grainy first images, but above all the influence on popular culture and particularly music of the early 70s. While six years of age in 1969, I was the youngest of six, so benefited from the musical tastes of my older siblings. Bowie, Joni Mitchell but particularly Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973).

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

Accurately. It wasn’t solely an American achievement, but also a result of German rocket development since the 1920s. At the end of the second World War, the US army had brought Wernher von Braun, his right hand man Arthur Rudolph and some hundred other rocket engineers to the US and covered up their involvement in war crimes.

(Johnny Gogan is the director-producer of the drama-documentary Prisoners of the Moon, currently on release in Ireland and the UK.)

Artist Mick O’Dea

What were you doing in 1969?

I was 11 years old and on my school holidays in July 1969. As a consequence I was at home wearing the short trousers in the family bar/grocery business on O’Connell Street in Ennis. My father farmed outside the town so, during good weather spells in the meadow my older sister Mary and I were put on half finished hay cocks, or trams as we called them, in order to trample and compress the hay as men forked it up to us, each on our own tram. Once a tram/cock reached its peak and the súgán had secured it from top to bottom in a crisscross fashion, we would slide down and mount the next half built one and so on, until a field of hay was saved. Then on to the next field. Sun, draught horse, horseflies, lemonade and water, all enveloped in sweet smell of freshly saved hay.

What do you remember about the moon landings?

The evening after the moon landings my sister Mary was minding the shop and I was hanging around with her, talking about it. Something extraordinary had happened, there was a man on the moon, unbelievable! At some stage in the evening we found ourselves in behind the bar in the storeroom where the barrels, whiskey and cigarettes were kept. A part of the wall was unpainted, raw plaster, it was there that we drew a big circle representing the moon with craters and two astronauts planting a flag. Thick black lines made by markers that were used to price the goods in the shop. We stood back and admired it. It lasted a while before it was painted over. There has been some changes to that storeroom, I have attempted to find a trace of the lines, with no success.

How should the moon landings be remembered 50 years on?

We must remember what Neil Armstrong said “one giant leap for mankind’’. He was not nationalistic or jingoistic. He included all of us. That is what was so important.