Monday 23 September 2019

State Papers 1988: Year of contrasts as Euro 88 glory offset by violence in North

Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher
Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher

Ralph Riegel

It was a year when the euphoria over Ireland's achievements at the Euro 88 soccer championships in Germany stood in stark contrast to the horrors of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Such was the shocking violence both within Northern Ireland and overseas that many questioned whether the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement had made matters worse rather than better.

So disturbing was the violence witnessed in 1988 that even British prime minister Margaret Thatcher acknowledged to Taoiseach Charles Haughey that there were times she felt like going "berserk" - and she described the beating, stripping and execution of two British Army corporals who accidentally drove into a republican funeral procession as "among the worst things in my life".

"The savagery was unbelievable," she warned Mr Haughey.

Anglo-Irish relations were at their most tense for years in the aftermath of the SAS shooting of three IRA active service unit volunteers in Gibraltar, the refusal of Dublin to extradite Fr Patrick Ryan to the UK, and efforts by the Libyan regime to supply Soviet arms to the IRA, including rocket launchers and Semtex plastic explosives.

Northern Ireland even threatened to overshadow the Lebanon for global media headlines amid a succession of horrific attacks.

During the funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast of the three IRA volunteers killed by the SAS in Gibraltar, Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage, loyalist and UDA member Michael Stone launched a solo attempt to wipe out the republican leadership. Stone used a handgun and grenades to attack mourners, killing three people and injuring 60 including a 10-year-old boy, a pregnant mother of four and a grandmother.

The loyalist attacker, having run out of ammunition, was caught by the crowd and beaten. However, he survived thanks to the intervention of an armed RUC unit.

Days later, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, who accidentally drove into the funeral cortège of one of Stone's victims, Caoimhin MacBradaigh, were dragged from their vehicle, beaten, stripped and bundled into a car to be driven away. They were later executed.

So concerned were Irish officials over the global implications of media coverage of the Northern Ireland conflict for the domestic economy that special plans were discussed for tourism promotions and providing Aer Lingus with new, more efficient aircraft to enhance access to Ireland.

It was in sport that 1988 offered relief to the long-suffering Irish public from recession and the horrors of Northern Ireland.

Just two years into his role as Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton led 'The Boys in Green' to the Euro 88 championships in West Germany.

In Dublin, the Irish capital celebrated its Millennium with a year-long programme of events.

In GAA, Meath again broke Cork hearts to win the Sam Maguire Cup while Galway confirmed their status as the best hurling side of the late 1980s with a thrilling four-point win over Tipperary.

In cycling, Carrick-on-Suir legend Sean Kelly won the Vuelta Espana to add to the Paris-Nice title.

The Irish charts saw the arrival of Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue with her debut No 1 hit, 'I Should Be So Lucky'.

Ireland's Euro 88 squad hit No 1 with the aptly titled 'Boys in Green', while U2 topped the charts for four weeks with 'Desire'.

Irish Independent

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