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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 4 June, 2020

Ireland was terrified that exercise could be the end of us all in the early 1980s...

Aerobics in particular. And not just because of the 80s legwarmers.

Source: mittdawson/YouTube

KEEPING FIT IS very much a part of 21st century life. A gym membership is something most of us take for granted, and a run to dust off the cobwebs after a long day is no big deal.

Not so in the mid 1980s it seems. What’s more, new-fangled ways of keeping trim were greeted with great distrust back in the day, if state papers released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule are anything to go by.

In 1984 a new fad known as ‘aerobics’ hit Ireland, and the political establishment wasn’t sure what to make of it at all.


Amid a general media frenzy regarding the new craze, Minister for Women’s Affairs Nuala Fennell was invited to present diplomas to the Mary Doorly School of Aerobics in June 1984.

20151204_114454 Source: National Archives 2015/88/413

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20151204_114616 Source: National Archives 2015/88/413

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A memo from the Taoiseach’s department made clear that Fennell should keep her speech at the event “vague, and congratulatory’ as sporting body Cospóir hadn’t yet figured out what aerobics was all about.

pic 3 Source: National Archives 2015/88/413

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God knows what they would have made of Zumba.

Fennell did indeed keep her speech vague but congratulatory. In it she mentioned that the graduates of the school were the “apostles of health, being sent forth today to preach, if not eternal life, then at least the good news of a better life”.

She also showed a flair for political grandstanding:

I have spent the last few years running for election, being passed fit for office, exercising power and swimming against the tide. Add to that the fact that I have run, and completed the Women’s Mini Marathon the last two years and I begin to think that maybe I’m the fittest person here.

The minister also helped Doorly out with an initiative to introduce aerobics sessions to the women’s prison at Mountjoy.

The prisoners were “the most enthusiastic class I’ve ever taught,” according to a grateful letter from Doorly to Fennell.

20151204_114421 Source: National Archives 2015/88/413

pic 4 Mary Rose Doorly Source: RTE

Read: Pornography being shown in pubs had the government in a fluster 30 years ago

Read: Irish people really didn’t like paying for their tv licence 30 years ago

See National Archives file 2015/88/413

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