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Column: How Ireland’s modern drug scene began in 1960s Dublin

In 1964, a man became the first in Ireland to be arrested on drugs charges, writes Sam McGrath. Here’s what happened next…

Sam McGrath

“DRUG HABIT UNLIKELY to grow here” read The Irish Times headline on May 4 1964.

However, while authorities quoted in the article may have held that optimistic viewpoint, the writer noted that gardaí had been keeping a special eye on a number of coffee houses in Dublin “where it was suspected that ‘reefer’ cigarettes and ‘purple hearts’ were being distributed, particularly among students.”

Raifiu Ojikuto, a 26-year-old Nigerian medical student living at Pembroke Cottages, Ballsbridge was arrested in April 1964 for possession of Purple Hearts (amphetamine stimulant tablets) becoming the first person in state history to be arrested on drugs charges. He was found dead in his home by gardaí after he failed to appear in the Dublin District Court. His death was not treated as suspicious.

In September of that year a Glaswegian Stewart M (21) and a Dubliner Colin F (21) were up in court for drugs charges. The former was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for importing 20 packets of Indian hemp and supplying five packets to persons unknown in O’Connell Street. The latter was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on charges of being in possession of two packets of Indian hemp.

1965 also saw only two drugs charges.

In January, a 33-year-old Nigerian mechanic was caught with 10lb 6oz of cannabis in Dublin Airport en route from Lagos to London. He had no intention of trying to get sell the drug in Ireland. In court, it was noted that Dublin had become “a back entrance for smuggling drugs into England”.

‘A load of hash’

Later that year, Julian R, 28-year-old medical student, was charged with having in his possession “a quantity of Indian hemp”. He was remanded on £100 independent bail.

In 1966, a 19-year-old student named Eugene C became the subject of the one and only drugs offence case of that year. He was arrested by gardaí on April 30 while in St. Stephen’s Green rolling a cigarette with Indian hemp. Pleading guilty to possession, he was fined a total of £20. The court heard that he had spent the afternoon with a friend in the New Amsterdam Café on South Anne St. This friend then went off with ten shillings to meet “a fellow (who) had come to this country from England with a load of hash”.

There were no drugs charges in 1967. However the year saw the establishment of the Garda Dublin Drugs Squad, which was led by the infamous Inspector Denis Mullins for twenty-five years.

‘A young American living in Ireland’ wrote a piece for The Irish Times in April 1967 in which he talked about the current drugs market in Ireland:

I remember a dinner party in the west of Ireland where all the drink ran out early and all the guests, middle-aged professional people, turned to marijuana because the pubs were closed.

The only convictions in Ireland under the Dangerous Drugs Act have been made in the last three years. There were only three, and for Indian hemp in the Dublin area. Heroin is rumouredly available for young people in Dublin, initially free, and increasingly expensive as addiction takes hold.

However, things changed dramatically after 1965. In 1968, 24 people were charged with drugs offences. By 1969, this number had risen to 59 and then 71 people by 1970. The increase in the amount of people being arrested for drugs offences illustrated the general increase in drug taking in Dublin as a whole. These early years could be probably seen as the ‘innocent’ years of illegal drug use in Dublin before the appearance of criminal gangs and large-scale heroin abuse that came in the late 1970s.

1968 also saw the first drugs busts. In January, Special Branch detectives raided several private houses in south Dublin and found heroin, LSD and marijuana. The raids were the accumulation of six months of detective work. At least six people were expected to appear in courts following the drugs seizures.

In January 1968, a UCD student wrote a letter to journalist Michael Viney who went onto include parts of this letter in an article published in The Irish Times that month:

I am an Irish UCD student. During mid-term last year I went to London for a week and returned with 50 ampoules of Meth (methedrine) strapped around my waist and also 2 ounces of Moroccan Hash (cannabis resin) and 2 ounces of West Indian pot.

While I am writing this I am stoned on Meth – I’ve also started injecting it recently – and I have also just finished smoking a beautiful fat reefer joint. I also supply a number of my friends with what I’ve got. I’m not a pusher: I just like giving them experiences – make them happy. I’ve just shoved in that line so that you wouldn’t think I was making money out of drugs.

I don’t know why I’m writing this – it’s not a gag – I just feel so great I’ve got to write it down or tell someone. Right now I feel like turning the world on … I know you’ve got to write about the evils of drugs etc. you should just try them sometime and write the article while you’re stoned

The Working Party on Drug Abuse (1971) stated that in September 1969 there were approximately 350 persons involved in the abuse of drugs in the Dublin area whose names were known to gardaí. By December 1970, this figure had grown to about 940.
By 1969, there were more and more reports of drugs being “systematically stolen” from public health dispensaries while more imaginative drug users stole plants of Cannabis sativa from the National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin in October.

Larry Masterson, now a television producer in RTE, in his groundbreaking but unpublished study ‘A report on drug abuse in Dublin’ (1970) mentioned that:

During the summer of 1969, Skerries became a favourite weekend resort for drug users from Dublin and Northern Ireland (Belfast mainly) who used to congregate there on weekends in order to ‘rave up’ on drugs.

Masterson spent six months studying the Dublin drug scene and noted that:

The Bailey (was) one of about five pubs in Dublin which have become a ‘meeting place’ for drug users and where you can buy your drugs provided you are known and know who to ask.

Accompanying a drug dealer on his nightly trip around town, Masterson was brought to a ‘Beat’ go-go dance and then to another well-known Dublin bar:

(We) left the Checkmate Club and headed down to MacDaids pub where we sold hash to five more people. These were much older (20-25 years) and members of the ‘literary set’ who frequent MacDaids.

1970 saw the first seizures of homemade LSD and Conor Brady in The Irish Times reported how the drug was “gaining ground in the Dublin drugs market” especially as supplies of “Lebanese marijuana were virtually cut off” to Ireland as a result of a Drug Squad investigation the previous July.

The following year saw yet another increase in drugs charges and the first publication of a major government report, entitled ‘Report of Working Party on Drug Abuse’, on the use of drugs in the country. The 78-page document was drawn up by a committee of 18 people including doctors, social workers, psychiatrists, university professors, student leaders and Gardaí. 1971 was the year that Garda Des O’Reilly said in court that people “could get cannabis in the city centre as easily as chocolate”.

1972 was another year of firsts when it came to drug use in the capital.

In March, the police used a trained dog in a drugs case for the first time. Mack, the drug squad dog, found two small packages of cannabis in a flat in Dun Laoghaire.

The year also saw the first major raid on a college when in June six people were questioned, two being charged, after the Drugs Squad raided the Junior Common Room in Trinity College and found a “fairly substantial” amount of LSD.

Drugs raid

In November, the first substantial raid took place on a house party. More that 50 people were questioned after a raid, in which cannabis and other drugs were found, on a party in a private house in Ranelagh.

November 1972 also saw the biggest drugs raid up until that time, when 36 police led a bust on the Yeoman Inn on South King Street. This operation saw 100 people being searched of whom 34 were arrested and 21 charged. The raid, which took place at 9pm on a Saturday night, came about after detectives had kept the premises under surveillance day and night for fourteen days. It was believed by both the police and the public that the pub was a popular place to both score and take illegal drugs.

Cannabis, marijuana and LSD were found littered on the ground, dropped by punters when they realised what was going on, while drugs were also found hidden in the toilets, behind piping, wooden beams and in dustbins. The narcotics detectives told journalists that after the “lightning crackdown” they expected the drugs scene in the city would be “become very quiet”.

The 1970s saw a general increase in illegal drug use in Dublin. In 1977, 381 people faced charges for drugs-related offences and by 1979 that figure had risen to 594, as noted by Padraig Yeates in a 1992 Irish Times article.

This immediate period saw a seismic shift in drug use. Coinciding with the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979 and the resulting flood of heroin into Western Europe, Dublin criminal gangs switched from armed robbery to heroin distribution. This is when the next, darker and more tragic chapter of Dublin’s drug history begins.

Come Here To Me: Dublin’s Other History by Donal Fallon, Sam McGrath and Ciarán Murray is now available at bookshops and online.

You can also read more from Sam at the Come Here To Me website.

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Sam McGrath

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