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dublin since 1922

Boomtown Rats, condoms and unemployment: Memories of Dublin in the 70s and 80s

Tim Carey writes about the 1970s and early 80s in this extract from his book, which is nominated in the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

THE STORY OF Ireland’s capital city from independence until today is told in historian Tim Carey’s book Dublin Since 1922. Through photos and events, he looks at the key moments in Ireland’s history through the lives of Dublin’s inhabitants. Here, he casts an eye over the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dublin Since 1922 is nominated in the Best Irish Published Book category of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, a category sponsored by

Thursday 23 November, 1978

DeKlootHommel / YouTube

Most young people with access to BBC television turn it on at 7.20pm to watch this week’s edition of Top of the Pops and the countdown to the number one record.

For the last seven weeks, Olivia Newton John and John Travolta have topped the charts with Summer Nights, a song about innocent teenage love from this year’s hit movie musical Grease. But today they are knocked off the number one spot by quite a different song. It is the first ‘New Wave’ number one and the first ever by an Irish band. It is Rat Trap by Dublin’s Boomtown Rats.

Before they start, members of the Rats turn to the camera, tear up pictures of John Travolta and yawn. Then they break into Rat Trap.

The Boomtown Rats’ first gig was in Bolton Street Institute of Technology in 1976. They were led by Bob Geldof, from Dún Laoghaire. After attending the well-heeled private school Blackrock College, the unconventional Geldof worked for a time in an abattoir that backed onto the Grand Canal. He then went to Canada where he worked for a progressive newspaper before returning to Dublin in early 1975.

After failing to raise money to set up a new publication called Buy and Sell, he sold spyholes for doors to people in the new suburbs in the west of the city. Then he got involved with a new band called Nightlife Thugs. While they were finding their way, bashing out tunes, they were offered the gig at Bolton Street.

At the break in the middle of that first gig, Geldof decided a name change was needed. Nightlife Thugs was rubbed off the board beside the stage and The Boomtown Rats written in its stead – at the time Geldof had been reading Woody Guthrie’s biography Bound for Glory which featured a gang of children called the Boomtown Rats.

Live Aid Concert - Wembley Stadium Boomtown Rats star Bob Geldof on stage at Wembley during the Live Aid Charity concert PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

The Rats quickly became the most popular band in the city.

They are not just known for their lyrics and music but also for laughs – they invite the audience on stage to Do the Rat – enthusiasm, bravado and a lead singer in Geldof with a big mouth and big head – at one gig Geldof is God was emblazoned on his T-shirt. At another he told the audience they were going to make him rich. And he was right.

The Rats moved to England and in February last year signed with the Ensign record label for £700,000. It is the biggest record deal in the history of pop music. After successful singles including Looking After Number One, Like Clockwork and She’s so Modern they released Rat Trap.

It is the most unlikely of hits.

It could hardly be further from Grease’s sweet teenage dreams of 1950s Middle America. Rat Trap tells a tale from the darker side of Dublin nightlife based on Geldof’s experiences at the Grand Canal meat factory. It features Dublin landmarks such as the Five Lamps, at the top of Amiens Street, the gasometer along the Liffey, an Italian café, flats and the meat factory. It is a story of poverty, street fights, urban blight, boredom, fighting parents and Billy and Judy who do not have the sweet teenage dreams of Danny and Sandy from Grease but have been caught in a rat trap from which there is no escape.

Thursday, 1 October 1981

Oisín Ó Dubhláin / YouTube

It is a time of great change for Irish women. Equality legislation, increased social freedom, better education and travel opportunities, have all resulted in a wide range of choices being available for women in the 1980s – which job to aim for, where to live, with whom to live, to marry or not, to live with someone or not, to stay in or leave a bad marriage, whether or not to bring up a child alone.

Every year young women from around the country move to Dublin for employment, new experiences and a better social life. According to the latest census, there are 30,000 more women in Dublin than men. To help them survive life in the capital, Lorna Hogg has written A Guide for Single Women in Ireland.

Hogg provides mainly practical advice. Newcomers to Dublin should buy a large map of the city and order a copy of In Dublin and read the Evening Press and Evening Herald to find out what is going on. There are suggestions as to where to eat and what to do. There is advice on building a wardrobe – because, according to Hogg, learning to dress effectively is ‘an absolute priority for the modern woman’ – managing money – because ‘money is power’ – buying a car, buying a house and setting up a business.

While many women successfully navigate single life in Dublin, others are less successful, and for these Hogg outlines the tell-tale symptoms of alcoholism and signs of depression.

She also addresses the issue of relationships. According to Hogg, the biggest difference between the current generation of young women and those of previous generations is that they want a ‘sharing’ relationship, not one in which women are subservient to men or dependent on them.

But Hogg warns about the infidelities of Dublin’s married men. Because not all are what they make themselves out to be. The single woman needs to be on the lookout for men who do not ask to be introduced to their friends and family, who do not ask about their day, who do not take an interest in their lives.

She also advises avoiding what she describes as Dublin’s ‘ineligible men’ which include drunks, the confirmed drug addicts, the violent, the permanent womanisers and the gays and transvestites who marry women or form relationships with girls simply to convince either themselves or society, or both, that they are straight.

March 1984

File Photo: The Poolbeg Twin Towers Story. Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Unemployment, crime, emigration, dereliction. There seems to be no end of reasons to leave Dublin. And that is what is happening. For the first time in decades, more people are emigrating from the capital than are moving into it from other parts of Ireland.

Despite the depressed conditions, In Dublin magazine is far from downbeat about the capital. To celebrate its two-hundredth issue, it publishes a list of 200 reasons that people should stay in Dublin, 200 reasons for Dubliners not to emigrate, 200 reasons not to give up.

From being on a suburban train as it leaves the Dalkey tunnel and the view of Killiney Bay opens out below, to playing rings in Kavanagh’s pub in Glasnevin.

From sipping a glass of whiskey in Kehoe’s pub on South Anne Street, to going to the corporation’s Fruit and Veg Market on Chancery Street.

From the 31 Turner watercolours exhibited in the National Gallery in January’s dim light, to the sound of a saxophone or tin whistle echoing in Merchant’s Arch by the Ha’Penny Bridge.

From the near-forgotten – except for cider parties – War Memorial Gardens in
Islandbridge, to Ricardo’s Pool Hall on Camden Street.

From the ‘Why Go Bald’ sign at the bottom of South Great George’s Street, to the reading room of the National Library.

From the brass bands in the tea tent at the Dublin Horse Show, to the half-wild horses of Ballyfermot and Finglas.

From eating fresh cod and a large single from Burdock’s on Werburgh Street, to watching the sun set on the Sugarloaf from the Baily Lighthouse on Howth Head.

Because even in this, the worst of times, there are many things to still love in the city, still things that make Dublin unique.

The full shortlists for the Irish Book Awards are available on the official site. Members of the public can vote up until 11 November for their favourite books, through the website. The awards will take place on 16 November.

Read: Life, death and rock n’roll: 40 years of Ireland captured in photos>

Read: These are the best books in Ireland right now – and you get to vote for your favourites>

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