1984: the year that brought Ronald Reagan and Dunnes strikers

Key events from 30 years ago as State papers are about be released

President Ronald Reagan and Ms Nancy Reagan during their visit to Ireland. President Reagan is drinking a pint of Guinness in the Ronald Reagan pub in Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary. File photograph: Pat Langan/The Irish Times

It was a time when a Labour party in coalition with Fine Gael took a kicking in European elections, two cases involving the deaths of babies shook the nation, a US president found his Irish roots in Tipperary and a Conservative British prime minister was involved in efforts to resolve the North's problems. They may sound strangely familiar but these are key events from a year three decades ago, 1984.

The State’s 1984 papers, having gathered dust in storage for three decades, are made public tomorrow under the 30 year rule. The Irish Times will carry the best of the stories and new information to emerge from these archives. But first we take a look back at some of the key events which shaped the year.

Ronald Reagan visits Ireland

Probably one of the most high profile events was the visit of Republican US president Ronald Reagan with his wife Nancy on an official visit in May. Like most presidents from across the Atlantic, Reagan’s Irish roots had been uncovered. One of the biggest events was an address at his ancestral home of Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary from where his great-grandfather came. He told the gathered crowd: “Of all the honours and gifts that have been afforded me as president, this is the one I will cherish dearly.” He said finding out about his ancestors had given his soul “a new contentment”


However his visit was not welcomed by all sparked many protests mainly over his administration's foreign policy, especially in South America. Among some 500 protesters outside Shannon Airport at his arrival were current president, then senator, Michael D. Higgins. Some 4,000 protesters whistled and booed as he addressed the Dail.

Dunnes Stores strike

Another international issue to make waves on Irish shores was Apartheid in South Africa as the actions of a 21-year-old Dublin cashier brought it into the headlines. In July, cashier Mary Manning refused to put South African grapefruit through the till and was suspended. Several of her colleagues walked out in sympathy. The strike lasted until 1987 when Ireland banned South African goods. In October Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel prize for his stance against apartheid.

The Troubles

Problems closer to home concerned then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald whose New Ireland Forum initiative, to find possible solutions to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, published its final report in May 1984. It listed three possible alternative structures a unitary state, a federal/confederal state, and joint British/Irish authority. Dr FitzGerald described the ideas as an "agenda not a blueprint". They were dismissed by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in what became known as her "out out out" speech.

Frank Hand killed

However the Troubles continued. In August 1984 Detective Sgt Frank Hand was killed by the IRA as he escorted a cash delivery to a post office at Drumcree, Co Meath. In October 1984 the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton, killing five people and injuring 34. The attack was aimed at Mrs Thatcher and her cabinet staying at the hotel for the Conservative party conference.

Miners’ strike

Mrs Thatcher was experiencing her own troubles at home as one of the most bitter industrial disputes in British history began in March 1984 as the miners led by Arthur Scargill went on strike after her Conservative government announced on it would close 20 coal mines with the loss of 20,000 jobs. The strike lasted for a year.

European Election

The European elections brought a shock to the Labour party which lost four seats while Charlie Haughey’s Fianna Fail gained three seats and Fine Gael gained two.

Prison releases

There were two high profile releases of men falsely imprisoned. Nicky Kelly was released from prison on humanitarian grounds in 1984. He was jailed six years earlier for his alleged part in the Sallins Train Robbery. He received a presidential pardon in 1992 with over £1m compensation.

An Irish missionary priest was falsely accused and charged with multiple murders in the Philippiness . He was released after several months in custody.

Baby deaths

The year saw two cases involving the death of baby’s which created major debate in the wider society.

Fifteen year-old schoolgirl Anne Lovett from Granard, Co Longfor died after giving birth beside a grotto to the Virgin Mary on January 31st. She was discovered by friends with her dead baby and bled to death before an ambulance arrived. Her death created huge public debate and came just months after a divisive abortion referendum.

In April 1984 a newborn baby boy was found dead near Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. The incident led to the Kerry Babies tribunal which raised questions about the treatment of unmarried mothers and corruption in the Garda.

Business Closures

1984 saw some high profile business closures. . In January 1984 the closure of the Ford car assembly plant in Cork was announced with the loss of 800 jobs. The plant was set up in 1917 by Henry Ford. The closure was due to the lifting of restrictions on car imports into Ireland. It closed in July. In March, state-owned Irish Shipping went into liquidation. The deep sea shipping company supplied the company's import needs.

Brian Cowen elected

January 1984 brought the death of Fianna Fail Offaly politician Bernard Cowen which would shape the future of Ireland some two decades later. His death lead to the subsequent election of his son Brian that year. He later became Taoiseach from 2008 to 2011.

Dublin transport infrastructure

Dublin transport saw some firsts which still shape the city’s infrastructure today. In July the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (Dart) electrified suburban rail service began running along the Dublin coast between Bray and Howth at a cost of £IR113 million The State’s first toll bridge opened in October 1984, the East-Link bridge connecting the East Wall to Ringsend. It replaced a ferry system in operation since the 17th century and cost 30p for a car.

Dylan and Geldof

One of the big musical events of the year was Bob Dylan headlining at Slane Castle, Co Meath in July. He was supported by Santana, UB40 and In Tua Nua while Van Morrison and Bono joined Dylan on stage during his set. In January, Dubliners singer founding member Luke Kelly died aged just 43. He had several operations after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1980.

In November 1984, inspired by a BBC television report by Michael Bleurk from Ethiopia Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote "Do they know it's Christmas" to raise money for relief of the famine in Ethiopia. The track had lines sung by many of the era's biggest artists including Bono and Phil Collins, Simon Le Bon and Sting. It became the biggest selling single in the UK charts and lead to the Live Aid concert the following year.

Olympic medal for Ireland

In sport, John Treacy gave Ireland its only medal at the Los Angeles Olympics winning silver for the marathon. The games were boycotted by the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany in response to the US-led boycott of the 1980 Summer games in Moscow.


December brought one of the world's worst industrial accidents at Bhopol in India. Over half a million people were exposed to toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. Thousands died and thousands more were left with debilitating injuries.

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery is Deputy Head of Audience at The Irish Times