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Friday 20 September 2019

1986 State papers: How Chernobyl disaster cast huge cloud over continent

Radiation scare in Ireland just weeks before 'No' divorce vote

Picture taken from a helicopter in April 1986 shows a general view of the destroyed 4th power block of Chernobyl's nuclear power plant a few days after the catastrophe. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Picture taken from a helicopter in April 1986 shows a general view of the destroyed 4th power block of Chernobyl's nuclear power plant a few days after the catastrophe. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Ralph Riegel

It proved to be a year of epic arrivals and heartbreaking departures coupled with a reminder of the threat posed to the entire planet by nuclear accidents.

A previously unheard of place in Ukraine - Chernobyl - entered the world's vocabulary as a byword for tragedy, fear and the fact that nuclear radiation doesn't respect international borders.

Despite the vast distances involved, radiation from the reactor at Chernobyl, devastated by an accidental explosion on April 26, 1986, eventually reached Ireland, sparking a public health scare.

On a more positive note, the disaster prompted a humanitarian response in Ireland where Adi Roche set up a charity to help the children hit by nuclear fall-out in Ukraine and Belarus.

Thirty years later, Chernobyl Children International is still undertaking that work.

On the arrivals front, Jack Charlton was confirmed as Republic of Ireland football manager after Eoin Hand's departure following the failure to qualify for the 1986 World Cup finals.

Few anticipated at the time the golden era that was about to unfold for Irish football.

However, Ireland lost a beloved musical icon with the death of Phil Lynott.

The Thin Lizzy lead singer died at the tragically young age of 36 and Irish rock fans were in mourning for months.

Northern Ireland convulsed with the furious unionist and loyalist reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement signed the previous year.

But, despite protests which British government officials admitted had left the RUC chief constable "frightened" for public safety, both London and Dublin stood behind the deal.

In recognition of staunch US support for the accord, Ireland bestowed citizenship on Tip O'Neill, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Boston politician and long-time associate of the Kennedy family had ancestral links to both Donegal and Mallow, Co Cork, and, 30 years later, his family still regularly visit Ireland.

A more unwelcome visitor was Hurricane Charley, which was blamed for the worst flooding that Dublin had ever witnessed.

More than 200mm of rain fell in a single day in Wicklow and the flooding in parts of Dublin was assessed as the worst since records began in 1880.

Dublin was also left shocked by the disappearance of schoolboy Philip Cairns (13), who vanished as he walked home from school that October. He was never found.

Another major tragedy in the capital was a fire which erupted in a Loreto convent just off St Stephen's Green. Six elderly nuns were unable to escape the blaze and died after being overcome by smoke.

The 20p coin entered circulation while Ireland also launched a divorce referendum in June as the final part of Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald's constitutional crusade.

It was defeated by a 65pc 'No' vote, with only five constituencies voting in favour of allowing divorce, all in Dublin. The 'No' vote in the north-west ran to a remarkable 79pc.

In sport, Cork won the All-Ireland hurling title with a high-scoring victory over Galway.

In Gaelic football, Kerry won the 100th staging of the final with an eight-point triumph over debutants Tyrone.

In music, Freddie Mercury and Queen played a sell-out gig at Slane Castle while, inspired by the success of Live Aid, Ireland staged a concert dubbed SelfAid, aimed at promoting job creation and fighting domestic poverty.

The Irish stars who backed the concert included U2, the Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy, Christy Moore and The Pogues. In the charts, Pet Shop Boys enjoyed their breakthrough hit with 'West End Girls' just as Wham! called it a day.

The undoubted Irish success story of the year was Chris de Burgh who enjoyed a monster hit with 'Lady in Red'.

Other major hits included Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away' from the blockbuster Tom Cruise film 'Top Gun'. The biggest-selling albums of the year were Madonna's 'True Blue' and Dire Straits' 'Brothers in Arms'.

'Top Gun' was the biggest- grossing film of the year, with other major hits in Irish cinemas including 'Crocodile Dundee' and 'Aliens'.

BIRTHS: Willo Healy, Andy Keogh, Donal Skehan, Stephen Ireland, Eoin Morgan.

DEATHS: Phil Lynott, James Dillon, James 'Lugs' Branigan, Monsignor James Horan, Cahir Davitt.

Irish Independent

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