Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dublin 1985

So I was going to write about something else, but then I was whiling away a rainy day listening to some Hothouse Flowers and checking out some old videos. I was transported back 25 years ago to Dublin 1985, a trip my cousin and I took primarily to see U2 at Croke Park. We'd been travelling all over the northeast and some of the midwest US to see U2 over 1984/1985 and with Live Aid and a huge show at Croke Park coming up, we were determined to get over there to see the shows. What started off as a trip to see U2, really became so much more and cemented for me my longtime love of Ireland and Irish people.

After all this time I can still remember the excitement and anticipation of leaving for our trip. We were going for a month, had almost no money (but I had a secret weapon, a credit card) and were going to hook up with some English U2 fans from Brighton (Jo and Lynne) who we met on the US tour. The idea was to see U2 at Croke Park but both of us wanted to somehow get to the Live Aid show in London as well, and if possible to see U2 in Rotterdam with Jo and Lynne. Of course things don't always work out like you plan.

We landed in Glasgow and took the train to Stranraer for the ferry crossing to Belfast. I can't really remember why we chose that route instead of going straight to Dublin, but it was probably cheaper. We must have been a sight on the train...I had hair teased to the heavens a la Eddie from the Alarm (who I had the hots for), a suede fringe jacket, and boots with one flapping sole. My cousin had equally teased hair and got more than one comment about her electric, vivid blue eye shadow. If we'd only had a camera back then! The only visual I have from those days is an old passport photo. The laughs we must have gotten once we passed the checkpoints! God how I miss those days...

Well doesn't technology suck sometimes? I was pretty much finished this posting, spent ages on it and with one odd hiccup lost everything past the paragraph above. Now I have to try and remember what I wrote. Grrr...

Anyway...Belfast in 1985 was not a cheery place. I don't remember ever feeling unsafe, but I do remember feeling unsettled. Despite a sunny day everything seemed bleak and grey. We spent the night there and got the train down to Dublin. My cousin reminded me of the razor wire along the train line; the checkpoints were disconcerting, with soldiers and guns reminding us where we were. I've been back to Belfast and the north and have seen some spectacular places but I'm not overly fond of Belfast. To be fair I haven't been back since 1988, I'm sure it's changed incredibly.

In Dublin, we stayed at Isaac's hostel by the Custom House. At the time it was pretty much a dump, packed to the rafters with no doubt other U2 fans coming in for the concert. I vividly remember the Germans walking around naked, the awful showers and toilets, and the totally uncomfortable beds (I swear some had STRAW in them). The whole hostel experience doesn't appeal to me, sharing rooms with a dozen other people. I remember one girl yelling in her sleep "hilfe! hilfe!" (help, in German). I'm pretty sure she got either my cousin's or mine foot up her ass (they were bunkbeds, I can't remember who she was above). One of us shut her up.

I think the Croke Park gig was the day after we got to Dublin. I remember a long walk from the hostel, and streams of excited people the closer we got to the venue. Along with U2 there was the Alarm, Squeeze, In Tua Nua and REM. I can't remember offhand what other bands, if any, there were. It was an amazing concert in part because it was on U2's home turf. The fans were over the top, the opening acts were great (except REM who I hate) and U2 was excellent. To be honest, I don't remember seeing a crappy U2 gig, although I do remember tiring of the stadium shows in general at the end.

I found this video on youtube, supposed to be from the Croke Park gig, and complete with close up of that odd, endearing thing Bono would always do, rocking back and forth on his toes lol:

After the concert our plan was to meet up with Jo and Lynne in England and try to get tickets for Live Aid and to possibly go to Rotterdam; however my cousin's passport was stolen by some wanker at the hostel so we ended up on the horrendous ferry and bus trek to London then going to the embassy to request a new one. We were in London for a grand total of a day. We didn't get to do much except go to Mike Scott's flat to say hello (except he wasn't there so we left a note instead, after snooping around and looking in the windows...sorry Mike!). We headed down to Brighton to stay with Jo but since we had to wait for the replacement passport to be processed Jo and Lynne went off to Rotterdam and left us behind. I think that's when I started to hate them lol. We spent a few days in Brighton but staying with Jo's family without Jo there was awkward and when we knew there was no way we'd get Live Aid tickets we were pretty dejected and just wanted to get back to Dublin, which we finally did after picking up the new passport. The trip back was a lot nicer - we went through Wales and I remember a lot of beautiful scenary. The ferry was horrible as usual.

I was totally in love with Dublin. From the minute we got back there I was so happy again, it felt like I was home. We walked everywhere, exploring places off the beaten track, around the docklands, the canals, but also more touristy areas like Grafton Street, Merrion Square, Trinity College and so many other places. The place was buzzing with so much youth and creativity. On Grafton Street we came across The Incomparable Benzini Brothers - basically Liam and Fiachna from the Hothouse Flowers. They were so fun and we went back often to try and catch them performing. I'm pretty sure Peter and Jerry were busking with them too, at least they were with us when we all went for pints afterwards. I wish I had photos from that trip (no camera) - nowadays we can take photos of anything and everything so easily. I'd love to see some photos of them busking, or of us all just hanging out. There are some later busking videos on youtube (nice one of them doing Hallelujah in Bristol) but I would love to see some early ones.

You couldn't help but love those guys, I will always remember them fondly. They were most definitely a highlight of that trip. We saw them as Hothouse Flowers a few times since then, but I haven't seen them lately. A few years ago I saw Fiachna on tv with Bob Blumer who was doing the "Guinness Diet" - try can catch it if you can, it was a good laugh.

Some random things I remember:
  • Cruising around the city like a couple of prats looking for places in U2's Pride video, with my cousin jumping off the stage like Bono
  • I couldn't believe how "white" Dublin was. Coming from multicultural Toronto it was a bit of a culture shock. We finally saw one black guy and a couple of chinese people
  • Ordering a full Irish in a cafe and having it come with black and white pudding (look it up). We were both "WTF is this stuff" and became adept at hiding it in our napkins and lying about how good it was. I became a vegetarian a few months after our trip. The pudding was definitely nasty and probably contributed to my decision
  • Seeing horses still pulling carts in the middle of a really busy street
  • Going back often to some odd little pancake house and eating loads of really tasty crepes
  • The smell of the Liffey and all the diesel
  • The Ha'penny Bridge
  • A lot of alarms going off
  • The Smarties bus

  • Somehow getting out to Howth, walking the whole perimeter and coming across a dog who wanted to follow us home. Hitching a ride back with some cute guy who thankfully wasn't an axe murderer
Eventually it was time to go home. I had the time of my life on that trip and didn't want it to end. Before I left I put an ad in the Hot Press classifieds looking for penpals to keep in touch (oh those prehistoric times) and made two great friends who I cherished and now miss - Nessa, who passed away and Charlie, who I lost touch with over something stupid. I've been back many times and will be back many more; no matter how much it changes I'll always love Dublin.


  1. Oh my God! The memories!!!! Thanx for that, was a good laugh, especially about jumping off that stage used in the video. I totally forgot about that one ;)

  2. Was at that gig in Dublin, I remember how awful REM where and how nobody knew them. Thanks for the memories.

  3. Ah, those were the dayz of Big-Hair,
    Big-ties, bell-bottoms N Big-cars...
    but then I grew-up. Literally...

    wanna PEACE
    of Me??