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Saturday 24 August 2019

'The Moon brought one giant tip... for the lift boy'

Moon memories: Joe Duffy, broadcaster

Joe Duffy
Joe Duffy
Sheila O'Flanagan
Tony Ward
Mary O'Rourke
Arthur Mathews
Niall O'Dowd

When the astronauts landed on the Moon, I was 13 - and I was operating my own little travel capsule. I was working in the Metropole ballroom, restaurant and bar on O'Connell Street, just beside the GPO.

I was the lift boy in the manually operated lift. My job was to land the lift level to the floor and pull open the double folding gates. If there was a step, you were in trouble with the manager. I worked a six-day week and got 30 shillings a week.

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I loved the Moon landings because every time American tourists got into the lift, I would let them know that I was turning it into Apollo 11. We would lift off and land on the Moon.

It was one small step for man, one giant step for mankind - and one giant tip for the lift boy.

During those weeks 50 years ago, I was getting more in tips than I got in my brown wage packet.


‘It was the most exciting time of all’

Tony Ward, ex-rugby international

Tony Ward

I was 14 years old at the time and living in Harold's Cross in Dublin.

To me, that era - with the Moon landing and the sensational music - was the most exciting time of all. I love the music from that period - Crosby, Stills & Nash, Cat Stevens and Pink Floyd.

I remember hearing news about the astronauts from Charles Mitchel, the newsreader who talked in a deep voice on RTÉ.

There was also great excitement when we got the evening papers - The Press and The Herald - seeing what pictures they had of the astronauts.

In those days, we followed it all in the newspapers and on the radio as well as on television.

We had a very fuzzy black-and-white TV. We were lucky to get the English channels through an aerial on the roof, but the quality of the picture was very hit and miss.


‘The picture was not clear but we could hear the astronauts’

Sheila O’Flanagan, novelist

Sheila O'Flanagan

We were at home in Greenhills in Dublin, and I was 10 at the time.

My dad Joe was the one who was really interested in it and he made sure that he woke us up to watch it. He loved astronomy and anything to do with new technology.

We had gone to bed earlier in the night, but we were woken up when the astronauts were about to walk on the Moon.

We went downstairs and watched it on our black-and-white set. The picture was not very clear, but we could hear the astronauts very well.

We could make out what was happening, and it was very emotional.

We were all fascinated by it. We had watched everything before then and my dad had talked us through it.

When the rocket was launched on July 16, my mother kept saying: "They're very brave, they're very brave."

And I said: "No, they're very lucky!"

There was enthusiasm about space travel that probably lasted about 10 years.

It seemed like it was a whole new era. It was something that was unifying. Everyone was watching it and hoping that it would go well.

At that age, I watched Star Trek with my dad. I used to read science fiction and suddenly the things that you read about in stories were happening.

I loved people doing things that were different and new.

I remember Apollo 13 very clearly [when the mission had to be aborted when an oxygen tank exploded]. At school we had a vigil for the astronauts.


‘Back then we looked on US as the promised land’

Mary O’Rourke, former politician

Mary O'Rourke

I was teaching in Summerhill College in Athlone, and I remember all the talk in the staffroom was about Neil Armstrong.

We all marvelled at the bravery, the can-do attitude and the wonderful feat of reaching the Moon.

A few years previously, President Kennedy had been assassinated and there was a feeling with Apollo 11 that America was re-energising itself. Whether we were right or wrong, in those days we looked to America as the promised land. Armstrong seemed to embody all that was good about America. He was a kind of totem.

I think there was an optimism at the time. There was a belief afterwards - if he can do this, what else can the rest of us do.

I think that by that time in the 1960s, Ireland was at long last becoming more outward looking. My son Feargal was four at the time, and I remember talking to him about a man walking on the Moon, so that he had some sense of it.


‘The man in the Moon had become fact and not a children’s fairy tale’

Niall O’Dowd, publisher

Niall O'Dowd

I was 16 years old in the summer of 1969, working my first summer job in an electrical plant near home in Drogheda

The night and morning of the Moon landing is impressed on my brain forever.

My family had gathered around our black-and-white television set to await the great moment.

RTÉ was the only station we had and things were still pretty primitive.

Kevin O'Kelly was the only host. He sat there literally for hours, trying to fill in the waiting as we awaited word on when Neil Armstrong, who had piloted the craft that had landed on the Moon just after 9pm our time, would open the hatch and step on to Earth's closest neighbour.

There was no panel of experts, no animation, or simulation. All O'Kelly had was a very rough replica of the lunar module and he kept telling us we would get live pictures when the Eagle hatch was opened.

Several of my siblings fell asleep as I did myself. I can only remember one other occasion staying up as a family, which was the Muhammad Ali/Sonny Liston fight some years before.

We were awoken by a shout from our Dad some time after 3am. Kevin O'Kelly had just pronounced that "the hatch was open" and we were about to witness history.

Except that we could see very little. There was a blurry image of a man descending a few steps on to lunar soil and then the immortal words: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It was arguably America's greatest moment.

It was history as we had never known it or never will again. I rushed outside to look at the Moon and imagined all the billions of people who had looked up at Earth's closest neighbour and how tonight was different. The man in the Moon, actually the two men on the Moon as Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong, had become fact, not a children's fairy tale.

I knew the world would never be the same again. It was a turning point in history. I hope today's young people see the day when a man like Armstrong lands on Mars - that only seems a matter of time, too.


‘The missions after Apollo 11 were a bit of an anti-climax’

Arthur Mathews, co-creator of Father Ted

Arthur Mathews

I was at home in Termonfeckin, Co Louth. I remember it all happened at four in the morning. My mother got me and my twin sister up out of our warm bed to watch it. I think it was on the BBC when we were watching.

It was on a black-and-white TV, and the picture was very grainy. Soon afterwards, I bought an Airfix model of Apollo 11 in Woolworths. It was an exciting time and it was just the same age when I was getting interested in pop music and football.

The strange thing about the Moon landing is that it is something futuristic, but it all happened in the past. I remember watching all the BBC footage. The presenters James Burke and Patrick Moore were huge celebrities at the time.

We used to go the pictures up in Dundalk, and drive back late at night. I looked out of the window up at the stars and thought about the astronauts who were travelling up there. In the years that followed, after someone had actually landed on the Moon, the following missions were all a bit of an anti-climax.

Once it had been done, everything was not quite as exciting. Apollo 11 was definitely the big one.

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