Sunday 25 February 2018

100 defining moments of Ireland's past 100 years

The story of these 100 things that made us who we are is a story of slowly letting the light in, says Brendan O’Connor

A mural depicting Bloody Sunday. REUTERS/Paul McErlane
Dana Rosemary Scallon. (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)
Mrs Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington (left) and Mrs.Margaret Pearse,mother of Patrick Pearse (Indo pic)
A scene from 'The Quiet Man'
Former Taoiseach Sean Lemass. Pic Tom Burke
Annie Murphy’s interview on the Late Late Show following the Bishop Casey scandal
The interior of the Stardust which went on fire on the morning of the St. Valentines Day 1981, killing 45 young people. Photo Independent Newspapers
Princess Grace of Monaco visits Ireland with husband Prince Rainier and children Albert and Caroline
The remnants of Nelson's Pillar Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Bob Geldof at Live Aid Photo: PA
The visit of Pope John Paul II
Charles Haughey
Packie Bonner Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The Euro introduction Photo: Maxwells
Ben Dunne
Sinead O'Connor
Veronica Guerin
Queen Elizabeth II in the English Market Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN
Savita Halappanavar Photo: REUTERS/Irish Times/handout
Panti Bliss celebrates the gay marriage referendum result Photo: Gerry Mooney

Brendan O’Connor

Sex, violence, greed, money, sport, defiance, music, books, religion, recriminations, revenge, reconciliation and redemption. The story of the last 100 years is a gutsy one. It is a story of the animal spirits, of appetites, of sensuality, of emotion, of the baser things and the things that are the very essence of a life lived fully.

But it is a story too of how we denied these appetites, denied this sensuality, denied at times our very humanity. And then it is the story of how we slowly recovered from that repression. It is the story how we let the light in, and of the people who forced us to let the light in, often at great cost to themselves, though we revered them years later.

As we let the light in, it shone into some dark place. Having been so long oppressed, it was as if, when we gained our independence we knew no other way to be, so we oppressed ourselves instead. And we allowed the church, and the politicians, and the bankers, and the lawyers and the elites do it to us. But mainly perhaps the church. We bent over and invited the church to oppress us in the most awful ways, and we revered them and thanked them for it. Because they taught us that we deserved no better. But when the church took up from the Victorians and oppressed our earthy pagan nature, there were awful consequences. Just as there were when they repressed their own nature. You can’t bury your nature. You can’t bury your humanity. It’s like whack-a-mole. Each time you push it down in one place it pops up somewhere else, and the more you push it down, the more inappropriately it comes out somewhere else, because it gets twisted when you try and keep it pushed down like that, marinating in shame and self-disgust.

We can be proud can’t we? 100 years on? That we have learnt to let the light shine in, that we celebrate life a bit now, even if we still feel an uneasy guilt about it? We can be proud too that we are slowly peeling off layers and layers of oppression, and layers of layers of oppressors. The Brits were easy — we could see them clearly, the enemy without. The church was easy enough too in the end. They hid in plain sight, but once the threads started unravelling the whole soutane came apart. But it’s harder to throw off the oppressors within, whether they be our own people, or the deep-rooted neuroses planted in us, folk neuroses that travel down the generations. But slowly we are peeling off those layers too.

A mural depicting Bloody Sunday. REUTERS/Paul McErlane
A mural depicting Bloody Sunday. REUTERS/Paul McErlane
Dana Rosemary Scallon. (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)
Mrs Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington (left) and Mrs.Margaret Pearse,mother of Patrick Pearse (Indo pic)
A scene from 'The Quiet Man'
Former Taoiseach Sean Lemass. Pic Tom Burke
Annie Murphy’s interview on the Late Late Show following the Bishop Casey scandal
The interior of the Stardust which went on fire on the morning of the St. Valentines Day 1981, killing 45 young people. Photo Independent Newspapers

We look enviously at the generation now, 100 years on, who seem relatively free of the disease of Irishness. Their grandparents, maybe even their parents, were the types who were said to be immune to psychoanalysis, so deep did the complex of being Irish run, a complex that is both inferiority and superiority. The disease of Irishness is contained in these 100 moments. It is the disease that caused us to drink, to lust for blood, to screw over our children, in every sense of the word. But the cure is in here too. Being Irish is a complex because it’s complex dammit. So within the disease is the cure. That is the side of our nature that made us write the books that we banned, the side of it that caused some of us to stand up to the rest of us. From Nell, who was known by only one name long before Prince was, to Noel Browne, to David Norris, to Sinead to Edna O’Brien. They were victims of our neuroses in a way but they refused to be victims. Rather than rowing in with the crowd, they decided to force the crowd to become more like them.

It is surely not sexist to say that our better angels were often the women. Ireland had always been miles ahead of the rest of the world in this side. The women always ruled the roost here. From ancient times in this country they had the power. And they also had the cop on. And they were usually the ones who told the rest of us to cop on. Sinead ripping up the picture of the pope, truly exposing for the first time the largest sex abuse racket in the world. Nell demanding to be served pints. It was women who stopped the unbridled fertility. And it was women, in reality, who gently ushered in gay marriage, gently coaxing the old folks not to worry too much, that these were our children, and our brothers and sisters.

You may not subscribe to the great man theory, and maybe they were all products of their time, and maybe if they hadn’t done it, someone else would have anyway, because maybe we were ready. But Gay forced us to look at ourselves too. Haughey encouraged us to get off our knees, while he himself was on horseback. Lemass took the country from the iron grip of old men and forced it into the 20th century. Ahern helped engineer some kind of ending to the violence we’ve been prone to for as long as anyone can remember. And for all you might say about him now, Kenny put the final nail in the coffin of the twisted incestuous relationship between church and state. And then there were the other ones, who were misunderstood, and whom we only later realised we had wronged. Joyce and Beckett modernised us and were Europeans long before we were, if only because they and their work and their ideas were smothered in their mother country. Noel Browne took on the church and tried to create a modern health service, and in return we tried to destroy him.

But somehow, in all of it, there was great fun, and excellence, and beauty. Because when Irish indignation is in full flow, there is nothing more exhilarating to watch — just look at Geldof. And when the beautiful sadness many of us have in us lets loose, there is nothing more moving — Take a bow Bono. And when an Irish person at the height of their skills is showing off, no one can beat them. Even if they are not always 100pc Irish. But then, we’ve always been liberal and open when it comes to our sportsmen and women.

Princess Grace of Monaco visits Ireland with husband Prince Rainier and children Albert and Caroline
Princess Grace of Monaco visits Ireland with husband Prince Rainier and children Albert and Caroline
The remnants of Nelson's Pillar Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Bob Geldof at Live Aid Photo: PA
The visit of Pope John Paul II
Charles Haughey
Packie Bonner Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The Euro introduction Photo: Maxwells

So the story here is a sad one at times, a story of painful breaks from the past, of how people often had to die in order to get us to see sense. And we’re still not there. But ultimately the story you will read over the next four pages is a story of the triumph of the human spirit, a spirit that was held down for so long than when it was let loose it flew, far too high at times. And we may have destroyed ourselves and each other a few times in the story. And no doubt we’ll do it again. But we get up, and we go at it again, usually having learnt something, but sometimes seeming as if we’ve learnt nothing at all. But you know what? We’ll go at it again. And each time we do the darkness recedes a bit more and life shines in.

And when Sinead sings, you hear it all: the sex, the sadness, the hurt, the anger, the violence, the love, the defiance, the laughter, the darkness, and most importantly, always creeping in, more and more, the light.


24 April, 1916

The reading of the Proclamation by Padraig Pearse occurs outside the GPO. It reads:

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

Ben Dunne
Ben Dunne
Sinead O'Connor
Veronica Guerin
Queen Elizabeth II in the English Market Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN
Savita Halappanavar Photo: REUTERS/Irish Times/handout
Panti Bliss celebrates the gay marriage referendum result Photo: Gerry Mooney

Nine days later, Padraig Pearse will become the first of 16 men to be executed for their involvement in the Rising. Their deaths effectively martyr the men, turning the tide of public opinion against British rule.

1 July, 1916

About 3,500 Irish soldiers serving in the British army die during the Battle of the Somme. More than 200,000 Irish soldiers fight in the ‘Great War’ and around 35,000 die but when World War I ends in 1918, the Irish soldiers are generally met with ambivalence, if not downright hostility, when they return home to Ireland.


September, 1916

WB Yeats finishes his poem Easter 1916, which contains the famous line: “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”

6 February, 1918

Led by the efforts of suffragettes like Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Irish women gain the right to vote, but only if they are over 30 and own property, effectively excluding the majority of women.

This will be amended in 1922 when all Irish woman over 21 gain the right to vote in the Irish Free State. Before that in 1918, Constance Markievicz will become the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons and as Minister for Labour in the Dail the first female cabinet minister in Europe.

14 December, 1918

Sinn Fein decisively win the Irish vote in the general election with 73 seats out of 105 and declares an Irish Republic, establishing the first Dail.


Early months of 1919

The Spanish flu pandemic which had raged for two years, killing more than 20,000 people in Ireland, mysteriously vanishes — much to the relief of all of Europe.


21 January, 1919

The opening shots of the War of Independence are fired on the same day that the Dail first meets, when two Royal Irish Constabulary constables are shot dead at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary.


21 November, 1920

The original ‘Bloody Sunday’, British forces shoot 14 civilians dead at a football match in Dublin’s Croke Park. It is a revenge attack after the IRA’s synchronised killing of 14 British intelligence officers in Dublin.


11 July, 1921

A truce is negotiated between British and Irish republican forces so that talks on a political settlement can begin.

Six months later, an Irish delegation led by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, creating the 26-county Irish Free State.

When the treaty is passed in the Dail, the then president of the Republic, Eamon de Valera, resigns in protest, saying: “The whole of Ireland will not get me to be a national apostate and I am not going to connive at setting up in Ireland another government for England.”


16 January, 1922

The day British soldiers leave Dublin Castle, the historic seat of British rule in Ireland, for the last time. The newly independent Irish government begins to make its mark visible, issuing Irish stamps (the first batch of which were simply overprinted on British ones) and painting the red post-boxes green.


2 February, 1922

James Joyce’s Ulysses is first published.


22 August, 1922

Michael Collins is shot and killed in an anti-treaty ambush in Cork.


August, 1924

The Tailteann Games take place in Ireland and are the biggest sporting event held in the world that year — even bigger than the Paris Olympics. More than 5,000 competitors from all over the world descend on Dublin to take part and 20,000 people attended the opening ceremony in Croke Park.


11 February, 1926

Riots over the fourth performance of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars erupt at the Abbey Theatre in response to the play’s criticism of 1916. Yeats addressed the rowdy crowd, saying: “You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration at the arrival of Irish genius?”


26 May, 1927

Women are exempted from jury duty on an ‘opt-in’ basis as it is thought it would expose them to matters “one would not like to discuss with the feminine members of one’s own family”. This is the first of many limits on women’s freedoms in post-independence Ireland.


9 March, 1932

The first ever change of government in the Irish Free State takes place. Many wonder if this first true test of democracy would be passed — whether it would be possible for the men who won a civil war only 10 years before to hand over power to their opponents.

Similar to when the party first entered the Dail in 1927, a number of Fianna Fail TDs have guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’etat does not take place. WT Cosgrave is determined to adhere to the principles of democracy that he had practised while in government.

Likewise, the Army, Garda Siochana and the civil service all accept the change of government, despite the fact that they would now be taking orders from men who had been their enemies less than 10 years previously.

After a brief and uneventful meeting in the Dail chamber, Eamon de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State by the Governor-General, James McNeill, who comes to Leinster House to make the appointment rather than require de Valera travel to the Viceregal Lodge — formerly a symbol of British rule. Fianna Fail — the party most closely identified with opposing the existence of the State 10 years earlier — is now the party of government.


22 June, 1932

The 31st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin, is one of the largest Eucharistic congresses of the 20th century. The main pontifical High Mass is attended by an estimated one million people.


August, 1933

The Blueshirts, who were often associated with European fascist movements, are outlawed after a proposed ‘March on Dublin’ is feared to be a prelude to a coup d’etat.


27 May, 1936

The first flight service by Aer Lingus takes off from Baldonnel Military Aerodrome in Dublin to Bristol Airport in a six-seater De Havilland 84 Dragon biplane, called Iolar (Eagle).


29 December, 1937

Eamon de Valera is elected Taoiseach and during his decades in power he is a key player in Ireland achieving full independence.

In a radio broadcast to homes around the nation on St Patrick’s Day in 1943 he described his vision for Ireland as “a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live”.

However, the speech later becomes a source of criticism for reflecting his isolationist economic policies and social and cultural conservatism.

Despite being a divisive political figure, he was elected President in 1959, a position he kept for 14 years, becoming the oldest head of state in the world at the time.


29 December, 1937

The Irish Constitution comes into force following a national vote held on the same day as the election.


2 September, 1939

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Ireland declares a state of emergency, passing the Emergency Powers Act that gives the State sweeping powers, including internment, government control of the economy and censorship of the media and mail.

The Local Security Forces are established and rationing is later introduced. Despite our neutrality, 28 people are killed in the North Strand area when four German bombs fall on Dublin in January 1941.

This comes a month after the Belfast Blitz in which 900 people were killed when the Luftwaffe bombed the city.


2 May, 1945

Eamon de Valera visits the German ambassador to express his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler in a bid to highlight Ireland’s neutrality in World War Two. The war draws to a close six days later. An estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Irish soldiers fight in the conflict, with about 3,600 killed in action.


15 January, 1947

In the village hall of Oldtown in north Dublin, locals see (and hear) history being made as it becomes the first village in Ireland to be electrified under the Rural Electrification Scheme.

The moment is marked by a record of Cockles and Mussels playing on a gramophone.


19 January, 1947

Two months of intense snow, ice and blizzards begin in what becomes known as the ‘Big Freeze’. Death rates double.



Ireland officially leaves the Commonwealth and becomes a Republic through the Republic of Ireland Act 1948.


7 June, 1951

Filming of The Quiet Man, featuring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara,  begins in Cong, Co Mayo, on June 7, 1951. It goes on to be a huge success and marks a new era in Irish-American relations.


11 April, 1951

After doing much to eradicate TB (tuberculosis), health minister Dr Noel Browne resigns over the failure to implement the Mother and Child Scheme — a programme that was to introduce free ante- and postnatal care for mothers and to extend free healthcare to all children under the age of 16.

The Catholic Church vociferously object to it, describing it as “anti-family”. Correspondence at the time later reveals the power the Church has over Irish politics.

In 1954 an altered version of the scheme is introduced, although it differs significantly from Browne’s original vision.


28 October, 1955

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has its Irish premiere in the Pike Theatre, Dublin.



The Defence Forces carry out their first peace-keeping mission when 50 officers are assigned to the United Nations observer group in Lebanon along the Armistice Demarcation Line between that country and Israel.


1 December, 1956

Ronnie Delany wins an Olympic gold medal in the 1,500 metres at the Melbourne Games.


31 August, 1959

The first Rose of Tralee festival takes place after a group of local business people concoct a plan to bring more tourists to the town during the horse-racing meeting and to encourage members of the Irish diaspora to return to Co Kerry.

The festival would go on to become a national obsession, attracting contestants from the vast diaspora and becoming a staple national television event. In 2014, Maria Walsh would become the first openly gay Rose, an important precursor to the 2015 gay marriage referendum.


23 June, 1959

Sean Lemass is elected Taoiseach and is largely credited with modernising Ireland, undoing de Valera’s protectionist policies, and helping to expand the economy greatly, guided by TK Whitaker’s Economic Development white paper.



Radio Telefis Eireann is established — 34 years after the first national radio station, 2RN, began. The national television and radio broadcasting authority would become home to some of Ireland’s leading broadcasters including Gay Byrne, Eamonn Andrews and Terry Wogan.



Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls joins a long list of books banned by the Censorship of Publications Board. While bans often ironically gave books a certain prestige, there is a  particularly strong backlash against The Country Girls for its portrayal of young women’s love lives.

Then minister Charles Haughey and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid agree that it is “filth and should not be allowed in any decent home”. In Limerick, copies of the book are reportedly burnt one evening by church-goers at the request of a priest.


8 November, 1960

Nine Irish soldiers on a peace-keeping mission in the Congo die in the Niemba ambush when more than 100 Baluba tribesmen attack the Irish platoon.


15 june, 1961

Princess Grace of Monaco visits her ancestral home in Co Mayo. Despite the nation’s rejection of the British monarchy, the Irish people still have an obsession with royalty — and with Grace Kelly we get our very own Irish Catholic royal.

Her arrival in Dublin is met with hysteria — as she arrives at her hotel, police barricades are over-run to chants of “We want Grace”. Despite being shaken by the incident, the princess later appears at her balcony to greet the screaming crowd.


11 October, 1961

Charles Haughey becomes Minister for Justice. He will go on to hold five more ministerial posts (Agriculture, Finance, Social Welfare, the Gaeltacht and Health) before becoming Taoiseach.

In 1970, his career is nearly cut short during the Arms Crisis, a political scandal in which Haughey and Neil Blaney are dismissed as cabinet ministers for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle arms to the IRA in the North.

Over time, this potentially career-shattering incident is eclipsed by the rise of Haughey to the office of Taoiseach and the beginning of an astonishingly lengthy political career.


6 July, 1962

The first The Late Late Show is broadcast at 11.20pm. Now the world’s longest running chat show, The Late Late quickly becomes a huge force in modernising Ireland and the platform where some of the nation’s major controversies are played out.

Some of the most uproarious moments include the ‘Bishop and the Nightie’ incident in 1966 when, on being quizzed by Gay Byrne, a woman in the audience admitted she didn’t wear a nightie on her wedding night. This resulted in Thomas Ryan, Bishop of Clonfert in Galway, denouncing The Late Late Show from the pulpit.

Other landmark moments include Annie Murphy’s interview following the Bishop Casey scandal; Joe O’Reilly’s chilling appearance beside the mother of his late wife Rachel — whom it is later revealed he had murdered; and politician Padraig Flynn’s description of his lavish lifestyle.


26 June, 1963

President John F Kennedy becomes the first serving American president to visit Ireland as the country is emerging from the grey, post-war stagnancy of the 1950s. Kennedy is Catholic, of Irish ancestry, and a symbol of modernity.

His four-day visit puts Ireland centre stage and marks the beginnings of the Irish-American lobby. In the Ireland of the 1960s his photograph features alongside the Pope’s in many an Irish parlour.

His assassination just five months later would shock the world.


7 November, 1963

Beatlemania comes to Ireland as the Fab Four play — two shows in the one day — in Dublin at the Adelphi in Middle Abbey Street. 


March, 1964

Arkle wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup, beating the great Mill House. It is an extraordinary victory for an Irish horse and sparks a huge outpouring of national pride. Arkle repeats the feat in 1965 and 1966.


8 March, 1966

Nelson’s Pillar is bombed by an IRA splinter group and later demolished by the Army. After much public debate and some controversy, the ‘Monument of Light’, or The Spire is erected in its place in 2003.


10 September, 1966

Education minister Donogh O’Malley announces the introduction of free second-level education, saying: “We will be judged by future generations on what we did for the children of our time.” The abolition of college fees is introduced 39 years later.

During the most recent recession, college costs are partially re-introduced through back-door fees.


12 August, 1969

Riots in Derry, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bogside, becomes one of the first major incidents of the Troubles when the campaign for Catholic civil rights spirals into sectarian violence.



In a protest over pub owners’ rights to refuse women a pint, Nell McCafferty leads a group of 30 women who order 30 brandies in a pub.

They then order a pint and, when refused, drink the brandies and refuse to pay, claiming their order has not been fulfilled.

This is the start of a number of innovative protests by the Irish women’s liberation movement, including when 49 Irish women challenge the ban on the importation and sale of contraception by personally importing condoms via the Belfast to Dublin ‘contraception train’ and refusing to hand them over to customs on their arrival.

In 1974, a group of women invade the Forty Foot in Dublin, traditionally a place where men bathed nude, and proclaimed their right to swim there too.



Dana gives Ireland its first victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with All Kinds of Everything. Ireland will go on to win Eurovision six times — at one point winning and hosting three times in a row.


30 January, 1972

Fourteen Catholic civilians are shot dead on Bloody Sunday when the British army opens fire on rioters after a civil rights march in Derry. Six months later, nine people are killed on Bloody Friday when the IRA detonates 20 bombs in Belfast city centre in an 80-minute period.


June, 1973

Introduced in 1933, the marriage bar preventing women in the civil service from continuing to work post-marriage is finally lifted.

By 1975, AIB announces that it will not be recruiting that year and cites the number of women remaining in the workforce as the reason. By 2015, there are nearly one million women at work, half of whom have children.


1 January 1973

Ireland  joins the European Economic Community (EEC).


1 February, 1973

Phil Lynott sings a rock version of Whiskey in the Jar on Top of the Pops, reflecting the renewed appreciation for traditional folk song in Irish popular music with bands like The Chieftains, The Dubliners and Planxty. Rock bands like Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher are also gaining international acclaim.


17 May, 1974

In a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks, the Monaghan and Dublin bombings kill 33 people and one unborn child. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claims responsibility. Later that year, five people are killed when the IRA bombs pubs in Guildford, Surrey in the UK.

There is a further bombing in Birmingham the following year for which six Irish men are wrongly convicted. This marks the spreading of violence in the North to the Republic and the UK. The cases of those arrested and convicted of the Birmingham and Guildford bombings later become a cause celebre.

Seventeen years later the convictions against the Birmingham Six are declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and are quashed by Britain’s  Court of Appeal on March 14, 1991.

The convictions against The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven are also declared “incorrect and unsatisfactory”.


31 July,1975

Five people are killed in the Miami Showband Massacre when UVF gunmen in British army uniforms attempt to plant a bomb on the showband’s tour bus at a false checkpoint. The bomb explodes prematurely, killing two UVF members.

The remaining UVF gunmen open fire, killing three of the band members and wounding two. The Miami Showband were one of the most successful and popular showbands in Ireland.


27 August, 1979

Four people, including Lord Mountbatten, are murdered when a boat is blown up off the coast of Co Sligo. Later that day, an IRA bomb attack kills 18 British soldiers and a civilian in Warrenpoint, Co Down.


30 September, 1979

On a visit to Ireland, Pope John Paul II tells the audience at a youth mass in Galway: “Young People of Ireland, I love you.” Nearly three million people come out to welcome the Pope at five different venues around the country, including one million people who turn out to see him during Ireland’s first papal mass in the Phoenix Park. Following his visit, 10pc of boys born in 1980 would be named John Paul.


9 January, 1980

 As the country begins to slide into deep recession, new Taoiseach Charles Haughey warns the country in a state broadcast that: “As a community, we are living way beyond our means.” Despite imposing austerity on the nation, Haughey continues living a lavish lifestyle and his reign as Taoiseach, a position he held four times between 1979 and 1992, is later tarnished by revelations of the corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion he used to maintain power and personal wealth, as well as a 27-year long affair with socialite and gossip columnist Terry Keane.

His penchant for handmade shirts by the French fashion house Charvet became a symbol of his own extravagant lifestyle.

However, Haughey is also credited with transforming the economy, boosting the arts through generous tax breaks for artists and laying the groundwork for the development of Temple Bar and the Irish Financial Services Centre. He is also credited with being an excellent health minister.


14 February, 1981

A fire breaks out at a St Valentine’s night dance in the Stardust nightclub in Artane, north Dublin. The blaze claims the lives of 48 young people.


5 May 1981

After 66 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands dies. He is the first of  10 hunger strikers to die demanding to be treated as political prisoners in Long Kesh.


19 September, 1982

Probably the most famous All-Ireland Football Final of all time, when Seamus Darby’s late goal denies a great Kerry team the elusive five All-Ireland titles in a row — a feat which has never been achieved in either football or hurling.


8 February, 1983

Champion racehorse Shergar is kidnapped by a gang of masked gunmen and never seen again.



Ryanair is founded.  At one stage the airline loses £20m and is close to collapse. In 1992, it adopts the low-cost model becoming one of the largest European airlines and one of the busiest in the world. Led from 1994 by Michael O’Leary, Ryanair brings low-cost flying to Europe and opening up international travel to millions more people.


31 January, 1984

Fifteen-year-old Ann Lovett dies with her newborn baby after giving birth at a grotto in

Granard, Co Longford. Three months later, a newborn baby boy is found stabbed to death on White Strand beach at Cahirsiveen, Co Kerry, in what would become known as Kerry Babies case.

These shocking incidents cause serious introspection on the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in Irish society.


19 July, 1984

In protest over South African apartheid, a group of young Dunnes Stores workers begin a strike, refusing to handle South African goods.

The protest gradually gains international attention and the Government eventually bans food imports from South Africa in 1986.

In 1990, the young women get to meet with Nelson Mandela who thanks them for their sacrifice.


28 April, 1985

Denis Taylor wins the World Snooker Championship, beating Steve Davis on the black in the last frame of the most famous final in the sport’s history. Even though it finished after midnight, the final frame was watched by 18.5 million people — still a record for BBC2.


13 July, 1985

A mouthy Irish singer organises a charity concert that is dubbed “the day the music changed the world”. Broadcast internationally to 1.9 billion viewers, Bob Geldof’s Live Aid features renowned musicians such as Queen, David Bowie, Elton John, U2 and The Who and raises £150m for famine relief in Ethiopa. Geldof goes from Irish pop singer to international humanitarian.


9 March, 1987

U2’s  fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is released. It is generally regarded as the album which catapulted the band into the position of the world’s top rock group.


24 February, 1989

Jim Sheridan’s film on the life of writer Christy Brown, My Left Foot, is released. Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker go on to win Oscars for their performances in the film.


21 June, 1990

David O’Leary scores the winning penalty and Packie Bonner makes a crucial save to see Ireland beat Romania to reach the quarter-finals of the  Italia 90 World Cup.

It is arguably the high point of Irish soccer under Jack Charlton. There were other great moments too.

Two years  before, in Stuttgart at the European Championships, Ray Houghton scored a header  against England that sparked a frenzy at home. 

And in the 1994 World Cup in Giants Stadium, New York, Houghton scored a wonder goal against the Italians that had the nation dreaming once again. This sporting era also marks the economic birth of the Celtic Tiger.


7 November, 1990

Mary Robinson becomes the first female president of Ireland.


Summer, 1991

The four-game saga between Meath and Dublin in the Leinster football championship remains one of the defining moments in the modern-day success of the GAA.

The games capture the imagination of the entire country and revitalise the organisation.


6 February, 1992

The Attorney General obtains an interim injunction against a suicidal 14-year-old rape victim, preventing her from leaving the country to terminate her pregnancy.

It leads to the X case on abortion. This later leads to two referendums on abortion legislation, resulting in the nation supporting a person’s right to travel and defending a woman’s right to obtain an abortion if suicidal.

Later legislation allows for the dissemination of information on obtaining an abortion. Ireland’s abortion laws would later be further challenged before the European Court for Human Rights under the A, B and C cases.


July 1992

Former Dunnes Stores chairman Ben Dunne is arrested in Florida and charged with the possession of cocaine and the solicitation of a prostitute. The fallout from the incident exposes the internal wrangling of the Dunne family for control of the company.

It subsequently emerges that a series of payments had been made by Ben Dunne using funds from the Dunnes Stores Group to leading politicians, including the former Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Charles Haughey and former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry. The revelations lead to the establishment of the McCracken Tribunal,

which is tasked with investigating payments to politicians. Haughey’s high living is found to have been supported in large

part by donations from wealthy businessmen, including Ben Dunne, whom he famously thanked for one gesture of financial largesse with the immortal words: “Thanks a million, big fella.” This kick-started an era of tribunals that reverberates to this day.


3 October, 1992

Sinead O’Connor rips up a picture of the Pope in protest at child abuse within the Catholic

Church during a performance on the US show Saturday Night Live. Although she is widely criticised at the time, in the following years it will subsequently emerge that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was rife.

A number of victims start to come forward, implicating priests and bishops involved in the sexual abuse of children and subsequent cover-ups. Later, Fr Brendan Smyth would become notorious among clerical abusers.


8 May, 1992

The story breaks of Annie Murphy, an American woman who admits to having an affair with a bishop and subsequently giving birth to his child after being sent to the United States to raise the child in secret.

It becomes known as the Bishop Casey scandal. Bishop Eamon Casey and Father Michael Cleary, who also fathered a child, feted the Pope when he said mass in Galway during his 1979 visit.


24 June, 1993

Following a 16 year-long legal battle, homosexuality is finally decriminalised thanks to a campaign led by Senator David Norris.


30 April, 1994

An interval performance during the Eurovision Song Contest called Riverdance becomes an international sensation.


24 November, 1995

 The divorce referendum narrowly passes after tense public debate.



Seamus Heaney wins the Nobel prize for Literature, joining prize-winners Yeats (1923), Shaw (1925) and Beckett (1969), yet again affirming Irish literature’s place on the world stage.


26 June, 1996

Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin is shot in a hit ordered by drug lords following her coverage of gang crime. Her death marks a turning point in the battle against gangland crime, with more than 150 arrests and convictions and a reduction in drugs-related crime by 15pc in the 12 months following her death.

The government also establishes the Criminal Assets Bureau to target organised crime. However, many of the gangs Guerin reported on are still in existence today.


July, 1996

Michelle Smith de Bruin is single-handedly responsible for Ireland’s second largest ever medal haul at an Olympics, winning three golds and one bronze for swimming at the Atlanta summer games.

While the Dubliner’s achievement is immediately called into question and dogged by speculation that it has been fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs, she emerges from the Olympics with her record intact.

The following year, she wins two gold medals at the European Championships, only to find herself banned for four years in 1998 for allegedly tampering with a urine sample during a drug test.

While she maintained her innocence, her appeal of the ban failed. Despite being discredited and disgraced, she remains Ireland’s most successful Olympian.


26 June, 1997

 Bertie Ahern becomes the first man openly separated from his wife to become Taoiseach. Although he plays a pivotal role in the Good Friday agreement and presides over the Celtic Tiger era, his reputation as Taoiseach is later tarnished by his downfall over his personal finances and the economic collapse that followed his reign.


28 February, 1998

A low-budget Irish sitcom called Father Ted airs for the first time. Starring Dermot Morgan and Ardal O’Hanlon and penned by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, the show parodies the priesthood and rural Irish life and becomes a roaring success, marking a rebellious new attitude toward parochial Ireland.


22 May, 1998

Days before the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble and John Hume famously shake hands on stage at a U2 concert. Bono describes them as “two men who have taken a leap of faith out of the past and into the future”.

After 30 years of conflict, the agreement passes, ushering in a hopeful era of peacetime recovery. More than 3,000 people died in the conflict and 18 people were ‘disappeared’.

Mother-of-10, Jean McConville’s disappearance is among the most notorious.


15 August, 1998

 The Omagh bombing kills 31 people eradicating whatever sympathy the public still had for radical republicans.


1 January, 2002

 State replaces the Irish pound with the euro.


24 May, 2002

 Roy Keane leaves the Republic of Ireland World Cup squad after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy at the team’s training base on the island of Saipan. His departure divides public opinion and is headline news all over the world.


6 october, 2003

 Google opens offices in Dublin’s Docklands and is later followed by Facebook, earning the area the title of ‘Silicon Docks’. The international internet companies bring thousands of jobs to Ireland, but also attracts criticism from around the world when they learn of Ireland’s low corporation tax rate.


July 2004

Fianna Fail’s lavish hospitality tent at the Galway Races becomes a lightning rod for criticism of the party during the Celtic Tiger era.



The so-called ‘Battle of Ballsbridge’ sees a legion of credit-fuelled property developers go head to head, bidding hundreds of millions of euro for properties in the heart of the Dublin 4 embassy belt.

While Sean Dunne, dubbed the ‘Baron of Ballsbridge’ believed he had won the battle (spending €510m to acquire the seven acres of former Jury’s and Berkeley hotels plus the adjacent Hume House), rival developer Ray Grehan splashed a record-breaking €171.5m or €84m an acre for the former UCD veterinary college site.

When the crash occurs, both Dunne and Grehan’s dreams and those of a generation of Ireland’s major developers would lie in ruins.


21 September, 2006

The Irish Times publishes a 479-word news report reproducing the contents of a letter sent by the Mahon Tribunal to businessman David McKenna in which it asks him to assist it with its investigation of a number of payments made to the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 1993.

The publication of the article relating to the tribunal’s correspondence to Mr McKenna sets in train a period in which Bertie Ahern’s personal finances become the subject of intense scrutiny, which very nearly sunders his and Fianna Fail’s 2007 general election campaign.


24 February, 2007

 After the GAA banned ‘foreign games’ in its grounds for decades, Ireland plays England in rugby’s Six Nations Championship in Croke Park. The wave of emotion is symbolised by John Hayes’s tears during the national anthem before the game. The Irish team go on to win the game 43–13, marking a proud and patriotic moment for modern Ireland.


29 September, 2008

The night of the bank guarantee when the government agrees to guarantee the six main Irish banks. Although this action costs the taxpayer dearly, much of what happened on this night is still unknown.


21 March, 2009

Captained by Brian O’Driscoll,  the Ireland rugby team wins the Grand Slam after a dramatic finale in Cardiff. The last Irish Grand Slam was in 1948.


29 March, 2004

Ireland becomes the first country in the world to introduce the smoking ban, effectively banning smoking in all indoor public workplaces.


20 May, 2009

The report on the Commission to inquire into Child Abuse, aka the Ryan Commission, followed a few months later by the Murphy Report, offers a devastating insight into the scale of abuse of children in Ireland from 1936 onwards.

Later in response to the Cloyne Report examining the church and State’s implication in the abuse, Enda Kenny says: “This is not Rome, nor is it industrial school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish Catholic world.

This is the Republic of Ireland 2011.” Four years later Kenny apologises to victims of the Magdalene Laundries, saying the government and citizens of Ireland “deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them”.


30 April, 2010

Much-loved radio broadcaster Gerry Ryan dies aged 53.


18 November, 2010

On RTE, Patrick Honohan, then governor of the Central Bank, confirms that Ireland is in talks to secure a bail-out, contradicting days of government denials. The bailout costs Ireland €60bn and plunges the nation into six years of austerity.


23 May, 2011

In a momentous week, US president Barack Obama and, for the first time in the history of the Republic, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visit Ireland within days of each other.


28 October, 2012

The death of Savita Halappanavar rocks the nation and, following a huge public outpouring of grief and anger, forces the government to implement legislation to allow abortion where there is a significant risk to the life of the mother.

However, many criticise the subsequent legislation as far too restrictive and the ‘Repeal the 8th’ campaign begins.


22 May, 2015

After divisive public debate, the gay marriage referendum passes comfortably, following a nationwide grassroots campaign largely led by young people.

Prominent public figures supporting the campaign include drag queen Panti Bliss and health minister Leo Varadkar, who was the first senior government minister to publicly come out.

It marks a new level of acceptance for the Irish LGBT community, with Ireland becoming the first country in the world to pass gay marriage through a national vote.

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