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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Alamy Stock Photo Photograph of the 400 Meter Hurdles during the 1932 Olympic games. Won by Ireland's Bob Tisdall (1907 - 2004) who also set the world record at 51.7 seconds.

Gold and glory in 1932 The year Ireland stepped out of the shadows and began to shine

Historian Kevin C. Kearns says 1932 was Ireland’s year of glory and gold with hits at the Olympics, social change and a gold rush.

IRELAND’S 1930′s DECADE has long been associated with the Depression and a stagnant economy – perceived as a bleak, dull, uneventful period.

However, one astonishing year –1932 – shines forth to dramatically refute that image. A year of dazzling events that made it one of the most glorious, exciting years in Irish history.

In the first few years of the thirties when America’s fabulous ‘Roaring Twenties’ was waning, it was reaching full bloom in Ireland. Ireland’s ‘Jazz Age’ – or ‘Jazz Craze’, as newspapers came to call it – arrived via wireless (radio), gramophone records, cinema screens and scores of returning Irish emigrants who found the Great Depression far worse in America than in Ireland – dire hunger, miles-long soup lines, masses of desperate people sleeping rough in the streets. They returned home bringing with them the exhilarating jazz music, dance and culture.

The ‘Jazz Craze’

Jazz mania quickly ignited and spread throughout the country. Jazz dancehalls sprang up in every county, most of them straightforward and unlicensed since local authorities, gardaí and priests could not control them. The jazz music and dancing were free-spirited, uninhibited, WILD – and intoxicating!

The impact on traditional, conservative, rigid life and morals was profound—a mighty liberating force.

The flamboyant ‘flappers’ were the icon of the Jazz Age. They tossed their corsets and pantaloons, cropped their hair, shortened their skirts and began the Charleston, Shimmy, Shag and Black Bottom with gyrations that thrilled younger generations and left oldsters in awe, some in shock.

full-length-illustration-of-a-fashionably-dressed-flapper-standing-with-one-hand-on-her-hip-and-a-cigarette-in-the-other-hand-flappers-were-a-generation-of-young-western-women-in-the-1920s-who-wore Alamy Stock Photo Full-length illustration of a fashionably dressed flapper standing with one hand on her hip and a cigarette in the other hand. Alamy Stock Photo

They terrified priests and moralists who saw it as the ‘devil’s music’, paganistic – a threat to religion and the nation itself, prompting impassioned lectures and speeches on the evils of music and dance. Virulent critics reviled jazz as the language of ‘savages’ claiming that the music and dancing awakened animal instincts in people.

Dire admonitions were preached by the Church. Even the Gaelic League condemned jazz as a dangerous ‘imported amusement’ and prohibited any sort of jazz at their dances.

Ireland’s flappers were inspired by how Hollywood glamourised and glorified jazz on the cinema screen. In Ireland, they became seen as chic, risqué libertines brazenly flouting conventional social forms and morals while flaunting their counter-cultural lifestyle and behaviour. They especially disdained the old restrictions on Irish women. Becoming an early symbol of the Irish Women’s Movement.

may-21-1932-londonderry-ireland-the-female-aviator-amelia-earhart-the-first-woman-to-fly-alone-across-the-atlantic-receives-cheers-from-the-crowd-after-touching-down-in-north-ireland-credit-i Alamy Stock Photo May 1932, Derry: The female aviator AMELIA EARHART, the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic receives cheers from the crowd after touching down in North Ireland. Alamy Stock Photo

Their eye-popping improprieties were entertaining, humorous and offensive, depending upon one’s values. But they indisputably enlivened Irish society in all social and economic classes. It gave people topics to discuss and gossip about while providing terrific material for journalists – and preachers.

The flappers embodied all that was exciting, daring, thrilling and free-spirited about Ireland’s jazz craze.

The exuberance of the 1932 jazz craze was enhanced by coinciding events no less exciting – and all framed within the new exhilarating jazz scene. An array of inventions and creations from passenger planes, new cars, wireless capabilities, gramophone, cinematography and picture houses – appliances for home, farm and factory, from toasters to tractors, making the age more pleasureful and modern.

our-blushing-brides-from-left-dorothy-sebastian-joan-crawford-anita-page-1930 Alamy Stock Photo Cinema - OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, from left, Dorothy Sebastian, Joan Crawford, Anita Page, 1930. Alamy Stock Photo

Several events especially added to the excitement of 1932 – the transition of cinema from silents to ‘talkies’ brought a spellbinding new attraction for people of all classes. Picture houses were thrilling entertainment for everyone’s tastes – westerns to musicals to drama. Tarzan and Frankenstein were also released in 1932. A social revolution in entertainment, which showed the most spectacular jazz music-dance scenes ever filmed, was inspiring to the Irish. 

Ireland asserts

The 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles in which the Irish sent a tiny team of only a dozen athletes. To the amazement of the world, two Irish athletes won gold medals – within only five minutes of each other. An unimaginable feat, filling newspaper headlines around the world.

photograph-of-the-400-meter-hurdles-during-the-1932-olympic-games-won-by-irelands-bob-tisdall-1907-2004-who-also-set-the-world-record-at-51-7-seconds-however-under-the-rules-of-the-time-as-he-ha Alamy Stock Photo Photograph of the 400 Meter Hurdles during the 1932 Olympic games. Won by Ireland's Bob Tisdall (1907 - 2004) who also set the world record at 51.7 seconds. Alamy Stock Photo

Also, in 1932, an amazing Irish ‘gold rush’ occurred, triggering a frenzied ‘gold fever’ in which masses of people, men and women, searched madly for hidden gold in their own homes and on property. This was triggered by the sudden, unexpected fall in the value of the sterling when the old gold standard was abandoned – and gold sovereigns skyrocketed from a value of 20 to 28. Any gold items became valuable – jewellery, medals, chains – false teeth! This created an excitement that paralleled the jazz dance halls!

part-of-the-huge-procession-which-marched-through-dublin-on-the-anniversary-of-the-1916-easter-rebellion-some-2500-men-and-youths-of-the-formerly-proscribed-irish-republican-army-took-part-28th-marc Alamy Stock Photo Part of the huge procession which marched through Dublin on the Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Some 2500 men and youths of the formerly proscribed Irish Republican Army took part. 1932 Alamy Stock Photo

Add to that the first world-level Irish Sweepstakes that sold more than 8 million tickets, which had prizes of 30,000 pounds (in 1932) and on draw day had ticketholders on more than 100 countries hoping, praying and holding their breath. It was said to have truly put Ireland on the map.

Glory and Gold cover

History is always more valid, honest – and interesting – when the woeful years and eras are fairly balanced with those that are wonderful. Those that are inspiring, uplifting, that celebrate the human spirit rather than degrading it. Focusing on noble achievements and cheerful events – that show the ‘brighter’ side of history.

These stories and events I have mentioned, among a number of other extraordinary ones, made 1932 a phenomenal year in Irish history.

In many ways, truly one of the most lively, exciting years ever chronicled. Everything was in harmony with the Jazz Age magic that prevailed in 1932, a year that profoundly enlivened the Irish social scene, lifted spirits and brought joy and happiness – even if it was for a brief moment.

Kevin C. Kearns, PhD, is a social historian, Professor Emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado and the author of sixteen books, including several bestsellers, most notably Dublin Tenement Life and Ireland’s Arctic Siege. In 2021 he was awarded the Lord Mayor’s Scroll from Dublin City Council, in recognition of his ‘dedication to preserving Dublin’s social history’. His new book, A Year of Glory and Gold: 1932 – Ireland’s Jazz Age by Kevin C. Kearns is now published by Gill Books. 


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