Oft-times I’m asked why I reminisce about the 1970s but quickly flip over the next decade like the Tyrone fixtures committee running off the club championships.
I have lost time. Blame the mushroom soup at the Castlebar Festival, a penalty miss trauma in 1986 and Maggie Thatcher.
It was looking good as the 1980s dawned. We went on a mini-bus to see Pope John Paul II as he called the young people of Ireland to assemble at the race course in Galway in September 1979. Bishop Eamonn Casey led 500,000 of us in the singing before the Holy Father arrived in an orange helicopter.
Casey said, “An orange helicopter! – our brothers and sisters in the North know that colour!” There was a huge roar from the stand where all us sadly lamented nordies were housed. Ah now Casey was some craic, “All together now… by the Rivers of Babylon where we sat down…” Things took a turn for the worse…
The next thing I remember was the cold kitchen at 7am on December 8, 1980 as I fired in the porridge before a day at the wheel cutting glass in Tyrone Crystal and the man on the radio said, “John Lennon has been shot dead” and the television images of people holding candles in Central Park and crying as they sang, “All we are saying is give peace a chance…”
Most of us were made redundant and Christy was singing, “Now they say that times are hard and they’ve handed me my cards, they say there’s not the work to go around…” Aul Maggie called us “moaning Minnies” and her sidekick Tebitt said, “Get on yer bike.”
If 1980 was bad, ’81 was horrific with the Hunger Strike, violence and grief. Reggae king Bob Marley died that year, “…this is my message to you, don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.” But it wasn’t all right.
Then Thin Lizzie took that mad weekend in Castlebar in 1982 by storm but a few years later Phil Lynott was dead as well; drugs. He wrote a beautiful song for his new born daughter, “When you came in my life, you changed my world, My Sarah, Everything seemed so right, my baby girl, My Sarah.” So much optimism, so much grief.
The next thing I recall I was in Dublin and went to see ET. The Dubs on the site laughed, “What’s the difference between ET and the bleeding cultchies? ET went home!” Luke Kelly too was called away and everyone in Dublin claimed they drank with him.
The National Ballroom on Parnell Square was good craic and the nurses from Longford were friendly.
AIDS and heroin was rampant and the Late Late Show was pushing the boat out much to the angst of the church. Condoms were legalised in the Republic and even sold in record shops. The story goes that a young fella went into the record shop to buy a Daniel O’Donnell album and was so embarrassed he asked for a packet of condoms.
Bob Geldof organised Live Aid and the concerts on both side of the Atlantic raised millions. Urban legend has it that Bob shouted “Give us your f***ing money!” on live TV but what he said was, “F*** the address! Go to your phone,” when the presenter was about to give out an address to send donations. Sure Ireland was broke and still sent the most money per head of population. I don’t remember what Bob said but there were powerful images of starving children that Saturday.
I shinned a telegraph pole in Coalisland amid hysteria when Dennis Taylor won the World Championship in 1985, but fell and banged my head, again.
Next thing I’m in a meat factory in Cahir, Co Tipperary of all places and in digs with bandit smugglers from south Armagh. Cahir was stinking with the smell from the pet factory so I moved ten miles inland to Clonmel.
Flashbacks come through song and sport. Vincent Hanley of MT-USA fame died of AIDS and was brought home to Clonmel. The people were heartbroken. Music was all through videos. I blame Adam Ant who inspired the video factory in 1981… “Stand and deliver, your money or your life.”
In 1986 Tyrone got to their first All Ireland final and men cried at the semi-final. The final was not to be and Sam was as far away as ever.
It was four weeks to Christmas 1988 and hit or bust. I sold the tickets for Johnny Cash back to the music shop, one of those regrets in life. The Man in Black wrote Forty Shades of Green’ “…and most of all I miss the girl in Tipperary town…”
My football career ended in 1989. I’d no more to give. They thought I was a mighty footballer in Tipp but it was a hurling county; in the land of the blind. I did score a penalty for Chalkie Whites in the final of the pub league but when a player from the opposition team shook my hand, I realised he worked with the local Credit Union. The net was closing. Next I remember it was 1990 and I was in St Pauls in Bristol and the graffiti near an Irish pub said, “The boat or the box.”
That’s all I’ve got from the 1980s.