Evening Herald, 29 April 1991.

Morrissey’s father phoned the Gerry Ryan Show once in its early days to complain about the lack of airplay given to his son’s music on Irish radio.

-Dermot Hayes writing in the Irish Press.

Friday sees the release of Morrissey’s new record, Low in High School. Its cover features a child holding an axe outside Buckingham Palace, clinging to a placard that says ‘Axe The Monarchy’. One would expect nothing less.

His solo career has now produced a remarkable eleven albums, beginning with 1988’s Viva Hate. If you care, my favourite remains You Are The Quarry. Next February, Morrissey returns to Dublin to play the Point Depot, a venue we will never call by any other name. He is strongly bound to Dublin through blood, but also a passion for Irish literature, which included reference to Brendan Behan on his last recorded album.

It’s an interesting part of the Morrissey story that his first proper solo concert was here in Dublin, with a sold-out concert at the National Stadium in April 1991. There had been a gig in December 1988 in Wolverhampton, but it was in many ways the remnants of The Smiths, and largely consisted of Smiths songs. Dublin was the beginning of the first ever Morrissey solo tour, backed by a new band and performing only his own songs.

A negative review in the Evening Herald inspired full pages of letters from disgruntled fans over subsequent days, but for most who were there the concert was nothing short of a revelation, with tickets selling out in an impressive forty-seven minutes (before the internet). The Irish Press couldn’t quite get the appeal, asking just what was it about “the bard of bedsit psychoses” that appealed to Irish teenagers. It was all front page news the following day, viewed as nothing less than the latest youth culture craze in the eyes of curious journalists.

Daffodils, lupins and geraniums:


Irish Press, 29 April 1991.

The constant stage invasions at the National Stadium were one feature of the concert that fascinated journalists, with the Press commenting on how “Daffodils, lupins and geraniums showered down on the Mancunian legend throughout his exciting one hour set.”

Over in the Herald, the review could have been about Bill Hailey and the Comets or The Beatles, both of whom had caused their own scenes on Dublin stages decades earlier:

To say Morrissey is idolised by his fans is an under-statement. They could not be kept off stage – although at times it looked as though even the narcissistic Morrissey was getting fed up with being kissed repeatedly on the ear.

Dressed in jeans and a glittering lurex style v-necked vest, Morrissey, to the delight of a packed arena, spent much of the evening wrapping his arms around his own body, running his hands through his hair and letting his tongue shoot back and forward lizard-style.

The youth of the crowd was commented on in many places, NME joking that “the only way they could have bought Meat Is Murder is by being wheeled into the store in a pram.”

Emerging on stage, Morrissey told the audience that “it’s very nice to be here, and it’s really touching but if you don’t come on the stage then we can play better.” Nobody listened. One great account of the gig comes from David Bret’s Morrissey: Scandal and Passion. The concert had a large Garda presence, who had done their research into the fandom surrounding the artist, and Bret writes “his opening number, ‘Interesting Drug’, was virtually inaudible on account of the fans excitement. One of these grabbed the microphone from him to yell ‘I love you Steven!; Morrissey grabbed it back and growled ‘Thank You, but I don’t know who Steven is!'”


Notice the flower-covered stage! This image from the concert was later used by EMI Records.

After a few days, the Herald had to guillotine Morrissey related letters, as fans had taken such offence to their review of the gig. Woody from Dublin 5 insisted that “there is a light that never goes out. His name is Morrisssey”, while David in Dublin 12 agreed that the concert hadn’t been great, maintaining “this has more to do with an ancient boxing hall unfit for a talent contest, never mind a big concert, than anything else.”


The set list included no Smiths numbers (it was far too early for that), but there was a cover of the New York Dolls song ‘Trash’, dedicated to the great Johnny Thunders who had died shortly before the concert. Despite what the Herald maintained, it seemed to everyone else that the man who would later describe himself as “ten parts Crumlin, and ten parts Old Trafford” was off to a flying start. A few months later he returned to the much larger Point Depot, his boxing stadium days behind him in Dublin for a while at least.

SET LIST, APRIL 27 1991:

Interesting Drug
Mute Witness
The Last Of The Famous International Playboys
November Spawned A Monster
Will Never Marry
Sing Your Life
Asian Rut
Pregnant For The Last Time
King Leer
That’s Entertainment (The Jam Cover)
(I’m) The End Of The Family Line
Everyday Is Like Sunday
Our Frank
Piccadilly Palare
Trash (New York Dolls Cover)
I’ve Changed My Plea To Guilty



The Attack on New Books, 1956.


Irish Examiner, 9 November 1956.

The idea of hundreds of people laying siege to a bookshop or a political party office is a strange one that we might not associate with Dublin, but it has happened here on more than one occasion.

Yesterday was the centenary of the birth of Michael O’Riordan, a remarkable figure in Irish political history. Born in Cork in November 1917, just days after the Bolshevik revolution had transformed world politics forever, O’Riordan devoted decades of his life to the cause of communism in Ireland. It wasn’t always (or ever) a popular cause to promote. In 1989, he joked in one interview of how “we are becoming more acceptable, people no longer cross the street when they see me coming and bless themselves.” O’Riordan, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, remembered the more difficult days no doubt.

In the early 1930s, anti-communist sentiment in Ireland was sharpened by events on the continent, and in particular the rise of the left in Spain. It spilled over in March 1933 with the siege of Connolly House on Great Strand Street, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Workers’ Group, a forerunner of the Communist Party. Just over two decades later, in 1956, events in Hungary brought thousands onto the streets of the capital again, this time directing their anger at New Books on Pearse Street, the forerunner of what is now Connolly Books and the home of the Communist Party in the city.

The anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary in the winter of 1956 received much sympathetic coverage in the Irish press. When Soviet troops took control of Budapest and other urban centres from 4 November, the resulting violence led to hundreds of deaths. In Dublin and many other cities across Europe, protests followed.


Irish Press, 9 November 1956.

A protest of some 4,000 students on O’Connell Street saw placards reading ‘Communism: Down With It’, ‘Aggression: We Know What It Means’  and ‘Save Crucified Hungary’ carried. Banners identified the students as coming from UCD, Trinity, the National College of Art and other institutions. It was all standard protest fare, but at New Books on Pearse Street things took a turn, with the Irish Examiner detailing how attempts were made “to rush the seven policemen outside the shop, but this failed, and cries of ‘burn it down!’ were heard.” The windows of the bookshop were smashed, as well as an unfortunate neighbouring business premises. Its owner told the press he was in full sympathy with the objectives of those who had damaged his premises!


Sunday Independent, 11 November 1956.


The Irish Democrat, newspaper of the Connolly Association, reports on the attack.

Not all opposition in Dublin to the behavior of the Soviet Union in Hungary came from the traditional religious right, the instigators of much of the violence in the 1930s. The meeting organised by the National Students’ Council on College Green following Hungary was described as being “both anti-imperialist and anti-communist”, with one speaker insisting that “if there was an armed insurrection in the Six Counties there would be a repetition of the brutality of the scenes in Budapest.” Among the speakers was Count Nickolai Tolstoy, described as a “White Russian now a student in Dublin” (though born in London) and an Egyptian student who condemned Britain’s actions in Suez and Cyprus. In some ways, it was not unlike the huge demonstrations in Dublin in 1949 over the imprisonment of of Cardinal Mindszentry,  which was also an unlikely coming together of the right and some from the left, including the Larkinite Workers’ Union of Ireland.

New Books continued on, moving to Parliament Street in 1971, before finding its current home on East Essex Street, where it is known today as Connolly Books. In the words of Irish Times writer Frank McNally, it has somehow survived “the rise of that flagship of rampant western consumerism known as Temple Bar.”


Irish Independent, 17 July 1919.

There was something of a furore this week when Leo Varadker wore a remembrance poppy into the Dáil. Personally, I think it is the right of anyone to wear or not wear any commemorative symbol they choose. I wear a white poppy each year, primarily in memory of my great-grandfather, one of the tens of thousands of Irish victims of the slaughter of the First World War. A white poppy (intended as an anti-war symbol and created in the 1930s) probably annoys both sides in the debate, but that isn’t the intention.

Commemoration of the past in Ireland is a loaded thing. When Sinn Féin TDs wore Easter Lilies into the Dáil in 2013, Charlie Flanagan lambasted them on the basis that “some members of this House may find the wearing of such emblems offensive.” When Fine Gael TD  Frank Feighan wore a remembrance poppy into the Dáil, nobody from the otherside of the floor objected. Why would they bother?

There has been a lot of work in recent years by historians, academic and otherwise, on remembrance of World War One in Ireland. The myth that the First World War was somehow ‘forgotten’ in Ireland is surely laid to rest by now, thanks to work highlighting Remembrance Sunday’s attended by tens of thousands in the capital, and the phenomenal public appetite for films like Ypres and The Battle of the Somme. In an account of childhood in working class Dublin, Brendan Behan remembered the importance of the memory of the war in parts of the city:

When the singing got under way, there’d be old fellows climbing up and down Spion Kop til further orders and other men getting fished out of the Battle of Jutland, and while one old fellow would be telling how the Munster’s kicked the football across the German lines at the Battle of the Somme, there’d be a keening of chorused mourners crying from under their black shawls over poor Jemser or poor Mickser that was lost at the Dardanelles.

It was in the very immediate aftermath of the war that the question of how it should be remembered was first being asked of course, and one interesting intervention was the Irish Nationalist Veterans’ Association (INVA), founded at a meeting in Dublin’s Mansion House in May 1919.

With some 2,000 to 3,000 men refusing to march in the 1919 victory parade through the city, the body claimed that “they did their part to resurrect ancient nationalities and to redress grievances in other oppressed nations, and on return they find in Ireland a larger occupation than Germany found necessary to keep down Belgium.”


July 1919 advertisement.

The War after the War:

Certainly, significant numbers of ex-servicemen did enlist in the ranks of the Irish Republican Army, the Citizen Army and other separatist bodies during the War of Independence, most famously men like Tom Barry and Emmet Dalton. Paul Taylor has noted that “the witness statements of IRA veterans contained in the Irish Military Archives refer to 109 ex-servicemen serving in the IRA….They include 24 commanders (almost all on active service),34 instructors (at least 15 on active service), 42 other Volunteers on active service and eight intelligence officers.” There were several hundred such men across the country, a frightening prospect for the authorities.

Yet for many veterans of the war, their fighting days were behind them. At the first meeting of the INVA the anger in the room was palatable, something captured in contemporary newspaper reports. Widows, the maimed and others demanded Irish nationhood be recognised, with war veteran Brigadier General Hammond in the chair. Men who had followed the Redmondite line that the interests of all of Ireland were served in the War now found themselves feeling abandoned, as “they believed honestly in the adhesion of the democracy of England to the just claims of Ireland when they entered the war, and they now told English statesmen that the eleventh hour had struck.”

Among veterans themselves, there were questions of what form Irish self-government should take. Some shouted ‘Up the Republic’, while a Captain Sheehy was booed for proclaiming his belief in “Colonial Home Rule”. The widow of Tom Kettle, who had been a founding member of the Irish Volunteers and an Irish Parliamentary Party MP in the years before his death on the Western Front in 1916, proclaimed boldly that “the men who went to France have been betrayed.”

Spreading beyond Dublin,the INVA had a presence in Belfast too, where Richard Grayson notes “in 1920 it took in political events such as a May Day labour rally in Belfast, but it was increasingly concerned with representing its members. In particular, it lobbied the local War Pensions Committee.” Beyond demanding recognition of Irish nationhood, the INVA in Dublin also made financial demands, with Mrs Kettle insisting “there should be an increase of all existing pensions and gratuity rates”, while there were demands that “work be started to give employment to ex-service men.” In the 1920 local elections, a 21 year old veteran of the war, Alderman Harkin, President of his local Nationalist Veteran’s Association, was elected in Belfast. He “romped home by a huge majority in a division hitherto exclusive to the Orange party.”


Letter in Freeman’s Journal, May 1920.

After independence, the question of remembering World War One was a complex one. Foolishly, some IRA men chose to attack those who participated in remembrance services, while on the otherside some uniformed British Fascisti used the day to provoke republicans and the left. The Gardaí themselves complained that the day was being exploited for “imperialist displays”. In the middle of all of this were tens of thousands of people who just wanted to remember their own dead with dignity.

On Remembrance Sunday 1934, an appeal to Irish ex-servicemen was issued, claiming that “the Armistice Day parades under the British Legion have been proved for the last ten years to be an insult to the dead and a mockery to the living.” Frank Ryan, one of those who had been prominently involved in shutting down earlier Remembrance Sunday events, shared a platform with Irish veterans of the war who marched through the city. Patrick Byrne of the Republican Congress remembered years later that “I had urged this new approach because of the disgust I felt when I saw some ex-servicemen being set upon for wearing their medals and poppies on their ragged coats.”

The men and widows of the INVA should not be forgotten. When the war was over, a conflict between empires, it left tens of thousands of people without fathers, husbands and sons. People had the right to mourn,to be angry, and to remember.



Barbara Jefford as Molly Bloom and Milo O’Shea as Leopold Bloom in Joseph Strick’s 1967 Ulysses.

Fifty years have passed since one of the great Irish cinema controversies, when James Joyce’s Ulysses made it to the big screen, only to be banned here. The work of American director Joseph Strick, it would remain banned until 2000, giving it the rather dubious honour of being the longest banned film in the Irish state. In New Zealand, it was only shown to gender-segregated audiences.

Ulysses had long been a controversial work. When Sylvia Beach made the brave decision to publish the work in print in February 1922, the book was widely condemned, often by people with no intention of reading it. The Sporting Times, a weekly British newspaper, regarded the book to be the work of “a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine.” The Dublin Review went further still, wondering how “a great Jesuit-trained intellect has gone over malignantly and mockingly to the powers of evil.” To D.H Lawrence, himself a victim of censorship, the book was “the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written.” It wasn’t only British and Irish sensibilities that were offended by the book; in the United States, some libraries refused to stock the book, denouncing it as pornography.

Yet whatever about the printed word (and it should be noted that Ulysses was never actually banned in Ireland, though condemned) it was the 1967 film version of the tale which shocked Irish sensibilities most. Denounced by the authorities as being “subversive to public morality”, it remained banned in Ireland for more than three decades. The film proved controversial globally, even inspiring a walkout protest at the Cannes Film Festival, with the audience of critics who booed the film denounced as “illiterates” by a festival official. The use of the word ‘fuck’, coupled with a nude man shown from behind, was too much for some.


Liberty Hall, a very new Dublin landmark.

Joseph Strick’s Ulysses is true to the text, but also very much of its own time. Though Joyce set the story on 16 June 1904 (now eternally known as Bloomsday), Strick made no attempt to hide 1960s Dublin from the cameras, and the city itself emerges as one of the stars of the film. I like to think that Joyce, a true modernist, would welcome Strick’s playfulness with the contemporary city. We see Liberty Hall, Desmond Ri O’Kelly’s sixteen storey building by the Liffey. Then the tallest building in the state, such a building was a distant dream in the Dublin of 1904. We also get a great look at the much-missed Irish House pub on the corner on Winetavern Street, sadly lost a decade later to the regeneration of Wood Quay for the Civic Offices.

Strick originally intended to make the film more than eighteen hours in length, though financial constraints thankfully prevented this. The film divided critics; to the Sunday Independent, it was “a sincere if rather tedious homage to Joyce – very much a filmed book. It is totally innocuous visually.” It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the cast was something of a who’s who of Irish stage and screen acting. Leopold Bloom, the central protagonist, was portrayed by Irish stage actor Milo O’Shea, while Barbara Jefford was one of the few non-native talents, taking on the role of Molly Bloom. To her fell some the most controversial lines in Ulysses, and her characters bluntness about sexual matters like masturbation stood little chance against the Irish censor. Her performance is masterful, at its best in her closing soliloquy.

Continue Reading »

Farewell to Liam Sutcliffe


Liam Sutcliffe at the Spire, previously published on CHTM in Dear, Dirty Dublin series.

Whether or not the removal of Admiral Horatio Nelson from the Doric column on which he stood for so long was a good or bad thing will be eternally debated by Dubliners.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, there were mixed reactions too. An American journalist wrote home that “Dublin’s mood was one of gaiety. Crowds jostled and joked around the police cordons at the scene.” By comparison, The Economist condemned the blast, as “Nelson’s fall may be good for a laugh; but it is comical only by the greatest good luck. Post-colonial Dubliners being safely in their beds by 1.30 a.m, nobody was hurt.”

In recent years I got to know Liam Sutcliffe, one of the men responsible for the bombing of the Nelson Pillar, who died last Friday. When I wrote The Pillar in 2014, he signed more copies of the book than I could dream of. He also had a remarkable ability to hear about any talk on the Nelson Pillar in the city. On one occasion, I got a good laugh out of seeing him stroll into Store Street Garda Station where I was giving a lecture for the Garda Historical Society on the Golden Jubilee of the blast. There may have been familiar faces in the room.

Liam Sutcliffe’s time in the republican movement did not begin or end on 8 March 1966. From Dublin’s south inner-city, he joined the IRA in 1954, shortly before the ill-fated Border Campaign. He was to become an IRA agent inside Gough Barracks in Antrim, gathering important information. Liam was among the (primarily young) men who followed the charismatic Joseph Christle out of the organisation; the ‘Christle Group’ were viewed as dissidents by IRA leadership, soon launching their own attacks north of the border. Joseph Christle had been among the students who climbed to the top of the Nelson Pillar in October 1954 and hung a banner of Kevin Barry from the viewing platform, carrying with them instruments they hoped would help remove Nelson. On that occasion, efforts to remove the Admiral failed, but his days were numbered. Gough, William and George could tell him as much.

Liam remained active in republican politics after the destruction of the Nelson Pillar, joining Saor Éire in 1970. In this capacity, he “was involved in the arming and training of the Nationalist Defence Committees in Belfast and Derry. He became a leading volunteer in the group, active in many of its engagements.” Saor Éire’s manifesto proclaimed that “in the Six Counties today the Butchers are at work again. The ghetto uprising of the Catholic-Nationalist population is the latest round in the Irish struggle for self-determination. But the rulers in the Free State are not in the least interested in the people North of the Border.” For Liam, there could be no question about the need to assist the besieged nationalist population.

In recent years, Liam was frequently to be found at commemorations honouring friends who had given their lives in the 1960s and 1970s, but he was also politically active in campaigns like that to Save Moore Street. A regular in Tommy Smith’s wonderful establishment, Grogans on South William Street, he had a great love for discussing history and politics and a wonderful friendly manner, not to mention a fine sartorial touch, never shying away from a pink shirt. He will be missed by many, and I will think of him every time I pass O’Connell Street.


Evening Herald, October 1975.

My apologies for a relatively quiet CHTM!

I’ve spent the last few weeks traversing across Ireland with the National Treasures project. We set out to “crowd-source everyday objects that explore the history of the island of Ireland over the past 100 years”, and I feel confident in saying we did that. There will be an exhibition and a telly series in 2018, so it is all ahead of us.

Anyway, a few items that came forward around Ireland really took me by surprise. In Belfast, we had a stall from the Brand New Retro team, and Brian McMahon and Sinead Kenny brought some wonderful periodicals from the Ireland of yesteryear. One which was most unusual was Man Alive (see issue 1 here), a short-lived magazine from the 1970s aimed at Irish men which included culture, sports, politics, art and…..a bit of nudity. The magazine attracted the predictable ire of the League of Decency, whose President described the banning of the mag as “a victory for morality.” The outlawing (temporary) of the magazine was front page news to the Irish Independent:


Irish Independent, 25 October 1974.

Published for the first time in April 1974, Man Alive was too complex a publication to just dismiss it as an ‘Irish Playboy‘, or even the Playboy Of The Irish World. In its first editorial, it noted that “despite some of advance speculation it is definitely not, nor will it be, a pornographic magazine.” Man Alive insisted that it was “in fact the first general interest man’s magazine in the modern international mold. Our package is aimed at today’s increasingly sophisticated Irishman in his 20s and 30s.”

Contributors to issue one included Jim Fitzpatrick, the artist then best known for his series of posters celebrating Irish literary figures, not to mention the iconic Che Guevara poster of 1968. J.P Donleavy wrote about the response to The Ginger Man, which had infuriated Ireland’s moralists, while Alan Coran was an interesting international voice, a regular contributor to Playboy and The Times.

The magazine was produced by the Creation Group, responsible for titles as diverse as New Spotlight, Woman’s World and the Sunday World. The publication was decidedly liberal (not least beside the Sunday World!), with Issue One including a profile of Senator Mary Robinson. A British newspaper, baffled by the controversies around Man Alive, insisted that “it offers no more titillation than that endured almost daily by readers of the British popular newspapers, all of which except The Sun circulate freely and uncensored in the Republic.” To The Sunday Times, “what appears to have shocked the Irish most is the fact that local models were prepared to sell their modesty for £100 a session and appear on the pages of the magazine.”

High profile interviews included Charlton Athletic footballer Eamon Dunphy, who proclaimed that “football is run by an ignorant, amoral petite-bourgeoisie and it shows.” Philosophical as ever, Dunphy’s views on the state of the game wouldn’t have been welcome in a tabloid, but here he proclaimed:

There’s a crisis in football: the signs are everywhere – violence at the game, violence coming from the game, dull football. And of course, the thing which really worries the management, falling gates. People are beginning to realise that football is in part a con: that’s why there’s falling gates.

Profiles, sometimes critical, of leading figures in Irish life included Conor Cruise O’Brien, a man who had his own obsessions with censorship (though in his case, limited to political opponents with Section 31). There were difficult issues addressed in the magazine too; an article by Carol Shaw noted that while there organisations like The Union for Sexual Freedoms in Ireland, “it’s difficult for a movement like Gay Liberation to get off the ground in Ireland – mainly because of attitudes to sex.” An article on men’s sexual health issues  included an interview with a representative from the Irish Family Planning Association, which discussed the issues of men who attended their weekly psycho-sexual help clinics.

Clearly, there was a demand for the magazine.  Whether most people read the articles or not remains a subject of debate, but the sheer volume of sales told its own story. Issue 3 of the magazine boasted of the growth of the magazine, as “we printed 15,000 more than the first issue and it was a sell-out”. A circulation of 40,000 was claimed at the height of Man Alive‘s popularity.

Against the backdrop of the controversy, the League of Decency’s Joseph Murray was interviewed in the Irish Independent, outlining a belief that “what this country needs to stem the tide of depravity and corruption was not less censorship but more”, before singling out Christ Brown’s Down All The Days as a “very disgusting book and certainly not a book that should come from the pen of an Irish writer.”  Murray claimed that the League was heading towards boasting “eight significant branches in Dublin…ten in Cork and branches in at least 30 counties.” For someone who hated Man Alive, he could boast of owning a few copies, and showed one to the interviewing journalist:

I find that revolting and disgusting, a gross display of indecency.Those pictures are without doubt an incitement to sexual immorality. These days you cannot pick up a book or magazine or even so-called newspapers without seeing a naked or almost naked woman. This is bound to affect young and impressionable minds.


Letter from the League of Decency to the Irish Press, December 1974.

The Censorship of Publications board ruled against the magazine on the basis it was “indecent or obscene”,  meaning that after four issues it temporarily disappeared from the shelves. Returning later in the year, they were warned a second ban would mean the “permanent banning of the magazine.” Man Alive limped on, with the Summer 1975 edition noting that it included “a new short story by John McGahern” and “Gorgeous girls galore.”

By October 1975, the magazine was no more, but foreign imports remained. It was all enough to lead the Catholic Young Men’s Society to declare Dublin a “cesspool of porn… the filthy literature that litters the streets of Dublin is on par with any cesspool in Europe.”

For a look inside the magazine and more from the weird and wonderful world of Irish publications, visit Brand New Retro.


Youth culture in Dublin is a reoccurring theme on the blog, from the Beat Clubs to the Teddy Boys.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of The Grove Social Club, an important local disco with a difference on Dublin’s northside which ran for an incredible three decades. A proudly alternative disco, this Raheny night achieved something of a legendary status, with the Northside People noting that it was “a safe haven for Northside teens; a melting pot where rockers could hang with Mods, Goths, geeks, hippies and Cureheads.” The club has inspired a dedicated website which tells its story, not to mention television documentaries and radio features. The club was such a part of the northside that one journalist was moved to write in the early 90s that “anyone between the ages of 15 and 40 living north of the Liffey has its name emblazoned on their souls.”


Evening Herald, December 1993.

The Grove club owed its very existence to Cecil Nolan, who the writer Tara Delaney would honour as “the man whose disco-spinning nursed generations through spots, break-ups and exam stress”. Emerging out of members of the Belgrove Football Club, Cecil was a natural DJ fit for the new local endeavor, already known locally as ‘The Music Man’ for his eclectic collection of records. He later recalled that “I played whatever I wanted because I knew there was a market out there for it and if it failed,well I didn’t care, at least I was enjoying myself.”

Beginning life at the Belgrove Football Club on Mount Prospect Avenue in 1967, it immediately acquired a reputation as a night with a difference. Attendees of the club remember the unique music it offered, from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple, and from Elmore James’ Dust My Broom to Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale. Much like DJ Paul Webb would recall Dublin’s Hirschfeld Centre as a break from “the same twenty clubs up on Leeson or Harcourt St all playing the same twenty songs” in the 1980s, The Grove introduced young suburban Dubliners in the 1960s to entirely new music, far removed from that in the charts. Following a fire at Belgrove, it moved to St Paul’s school in Raheny in the mid 1970s, though it retained its original name through subsequent decades. A recent video marking the fiftieth anniversary of the club shows its St Paul’s hall, with Cecil recalling his memories of the place:

Moral panic around youth discos in the 1960s was very real; readers of one newspaper were warned in 1967 that “a young boy or girl put on the way to becoming regular drinkers can only finish up as moral wrecks.” Plenty of column inches were lost on purple hearts and marijuana. Yet while plenty of newspaper ink went on that, there were also advertisements from young men and women looking to rent spaces across the city for discos.  In an affectionate remembrance piece on the youth discos of 1970s Dublin, the journalist Niall Bourke recalled how “your arse wouldn’t touch the ground until you hit the tarmac of the car park outside if you were found in possession of any dodgy substances.” It would be foolish to suggest drink wasn’t a factor in it all – Jason Duffy recalled “finishing off a few drinks in St. Anne’s Park before making our way into St. Paul’s” – but anyone who thought it the main attraction of a night out missed the point.

Whenever a journalist did darken the door of a youth disco, they found them to be places of community and enjoyment, and well-needed escapism from school and the stresses of life. The Grove in particular had a transformative effect for many, with broadcaster Marty Whelan (who met his wife at the club) recalling:

Every time I hear certain songs I’m right back there remembering the Grove. There was just a vibe. I think a place like that is special because someone like Cecil,who was from another generation, came up and related to every teenager who went over a thirty year period.

Hard rock took over for a period, but as Bourke noted, Cecil “knew how to work a crowd…during his career he presented the different genres of metal, punk, gothic and grunge to the ever-enthusiastic punters who lapped it all up with absolute relish.” A discussion on a forum dedicated to the club gives a sense of its 1980s playlist. The Damned and Motorhead competed for time against The Smiths, XTC and 10cc. Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne is recalled too, presumably a ‘slow dance and snog’ type of number. The last song played at The Grove in 1997 was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, a classic teenage angst anthem which includes the line “Here we are now, entertain us.” For thirty years, The Grove entertained without disappointment.

In 2006, RTÉ produced a True Lives feature special entitled The Grove: More Than A Feeling. Including contributions from RTÉ’s own Eileen Dunne, Marty Whelan and the comedian Brendan Bourke, it was a nostalgic but important piece of social history. It captured the sense of community which existed – and continues to exist – around the club. Reunion nights, instigated by former Grover Andy Colbert and featuring the original club DJ Cecil Nolan, have ensured that the community remains today.


A Grove Reunion Poster.

As well as inspiring documentary features and reunion nights, The Grove has even made its way into fiction. In the trailer for the award winning 2007 feature film 32A, the story of teenage years in the suburban Dublin of the late 70s and early 80s, the all-important question “are you going to The Grove tonight?” is asked:

We salute all involved on fifty years of a club culture in Dublin, and may their reunions continue long into the future!

For a membership card from The Grove, see this recent addition to The National Treasures project. My thanks to Dr. Linda King, with whom I am working on National Treasures, for putting the idea for this article into my head!

%d bloggers like this: