No to Nukes: Ire­land’s Wood­stock re­called

In the sum­mer of 1978, young peo­ple across Ire­land rose up to protest plans for a Wex­ford nu­clear plant. DAMIAN CORLESS re­calls a gen­er­a­tion’s first faint stir­rings of lib­er­a­tion

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD -

Forty years ago, Ire­land took the de­ci­sive op­tion to go no-nukes. In Jan­uary 1978, Min­is­ter for En­ergy Des O’Mal­ley un­veiled plans for a nu­clear plant at Carn­sore Point in Wex­ford. The young peo­ple gath­ered up and said No.

1978 was also the year Ire­land went pop. It was an odd, in-be­tween time. Ire­land was thaw­ing from decades of iso­la­tion­ism and bathing in the hip­pie breeze that had swept the western world a decade ear­lier, while parts of Dublin, Cork and north of the bor­der were caught up in the fren­zied new wave of punk. The hip­pies and punks found them­selves al­lied in the fight to keep Ire­land a nu­clear-free zone.

One pub­li­ca­tion summed up the new spirit of free­dom waft­ing the land, say­ing: “The cur­rent style of folk fes­ti­val is a wel­come in­no­va­tion.

“In­stead of the reg­i­men­ta­tion and steril­ity of the Fleadh, the pub­lic find a sit­u­a­tion where the mu­sic and the craic are ac­tu­ally ac­ces­si­ble to them! No more sit­ting in an airy hall won­der­ing when an ad­ju­di­ca­tor will stop rab­bet­ing on about ‘fine long bow strokes’ and ‘pre­sen­ta­tion’.”

A genuine sense of lib­er­a­tion had ar­rived, how­ever faint and quaint it may seem to us to­day.

A trav­el­ling ‘Anti-Nu­clear Power Show’ hit the bo­ha­reens, fronted by Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Sta­galee and other lu­mi­nar­ies. The fi­nal des­ti­na­tion was Carn­sore Point it­self, home to the planned nu­clear pow­er­house. This was se­ri­ous stuff, with ‘Dis­cus­sion Work­shops’ cov­er­ing is­sues like ‘Ura­nium Min­ing Ac­ci­dents’ and ‘Wind­scale and the Ir­ish Sea’. The Wind­scale nu­clear plant in Cum­bria had changed its name to Sel­lafield fol­low­ing a toxic leak 20 years ear­lier, and fes­ti­val go­ers didn’t un­der­stand why Ire­land would want to fol­low down the same path.

Ire­land was in an ex­per­i­men­tal phase, be­tween but­toned-down Catholic con­form­ity and what­ever the fu­ture might bring. Ire­land had also just dis­cov­ered, to its joy, that it was good at pop. This was trans­for­ma­tive. Thin Lizzy were at the top of their game. The Boom­town Rats re­leased their huge seller ‘A Tonic for the Troops’.


Ire­land was still pretty drab though. But ev­ery Sat­ur­day and Sun­day an oa­sis of colour lit up the drab­ness. It was the Dan­de­lion Mar­ket on what is now the Stephen’s Green Cen­tre and it screamed youth. Like a gi­ant ori­en­tal bazaar, its stalls and kiosks sold ev­ery­thing your par­ents wouldn’t like. It had slashed punk T-shirts, hippy joss sticks, a mil­lion posters, badges, belt-buck­les, lava lamps, miles of vinyl and far-out stuff like Bom­bay mix, patchouli oil and tat­too par­lours.

For the youth of 1978, the Dan­de­lion Mar­ket was the so­cial net­work, and an up­com­ing band called U2 were show­ing an un­canny knack for net­work­ing. That year the man­ager­less un­knowns had boldly stalked Boom­town Rat Gerry Cott and rock god Phil Lynott, fear­lessly press­ing their bet­ters for ad­vice and any leg-ups that might be go­ing.

One of the more bizarre ex­per­i­ments was the so-called Mu­si­cal Bus.

In an age well be­fore the first Sony Walk­man ap­peared, the cap­i­tal’s bus pas­sen­gers would now be able to en­joy a se­lec­tion of mid­dle-of-the-road pop tunes pep­pered with ad­verts whether they wanted them or not, as they lan­guished at some mid­way point on their com­mute wait­ing for their driver and con­duc­tor to pop back out of the book­ies.

The mix of mu­sic and ads would be piped on to the top decks of buses on cross-city routes. Re­port­ing that the routes had been care­fully cho­sen, one news­pa­per noted that th­ese were ones where “it was thought the mu­sic might be more ac­cept­able, or where there might be the least ob­jec­tion” (they meant Fin­glas and Bal­ly­mun). Or, put an­other way: “Peo­ple from what prop­erty ex­perts call the bet­ter ar­eas of­ten es­cape com­pul­sory mu­sic on their jour­neys.”

Ac­cord­ing to the same re­port, the think­ing of the mar­ke­teers was that re­strict­ing the blare to the up­per deck would tar­get the youth, who pre­ferred the up­stairs seats. It was ad­di­tion­ally be­lieved that since those seated up­stairs were al­ready pre­pared to tol­er­ate cig­a­rette smoke, they might be more open to mu­sic and ad­ver­tis­ing. One writer lam­basted the scheme, de­scrib­ing the blare of “un­sought elec­tronic tapes” as ir­ri­tat­ing “gimmickry” when the bus ser­vice should be tack­ling the scan­dal of rogue buses, with no num­ber or des­ti­na­tion on dis­play, cruis­ing past dis­mayed queues of com­muters.

Timeta­bles were a joke, and the state of the filthy fleet was “de­plorable, ugly and some­times dan­ger­ous”. It was an era when bus driv­ers and con­duc­tors smoked on the job.

For the sum­mers of 1978 and 1979, protesters de­scended on Carn­sore, many brought to­gether by the medium of CB ra­dio. The craze had spread from the United States where it be­gan life as an in­stru­ment of civil dis­obe­di­ence dur­ing the oil cri­sis of 1973. In re­sponse to the Arab oil em­bargo on the West, the US gov­ern­ment had im­posed a 55mph speed limit which was strictly en­forced by high­way pa­trols. First truck­ers, and then mil­lions of or­di­nary mo­torists, in­stalled CB sets as a means of alert­ing other driv­ers to road­blocks and am­bushes laid by the ‘Smok­ies’ (po­lice).

Its ap­petite whet­ted by the 1976 novelty hit song ‘Con­voy’, fol­lowed by a 1978 film of the same name star­ring Kris Kristof­fer­son, the Ir­ish pub­lic went CB crazy when sets be­gan ar­riv­ing in bulk to­wards the end of the decade.

For that sum­mer and the next, protesters de­scended on Carn­sore in ‘Get To The Point’ T-shirts. But the gov­ern­ment was not for turn­ing. As a mat­ter of eco­nomic ne­ces­sity, Ire­land, of­fi­cially at least, was firmly in the pro-nu­clear camp.

Then, with dev­as­tat­ing tim­ing, news broke of a nu­clear leak at Three Mile Is­land in the US, and a sin­is­ter botched cover-up (drama­tised in the movie The China Syn­drome, star­ring Jane Fonda and Michael Dou­glas).

A lo­cal Fianna Fáil ac­tivist at­tempted to re­cover the sit­u­a­tion by draw­ing up a “dis­as­ter plan” for Wex­ford should the worst hap­pen at Carn­sore. Bad idea. Sadly, in­stead of ad­vanc­ing the nu­clear cause, this con­tin­gency plan for melt­down and may­hem had pre­cisely the op­po­site ef­fect on pub­lic con­fi­dence, and the nu­clear op­tion was shelved.

A trav­el­ling ‘Anti-Nu­clear Power Show’ hit the bo­ha­reens, fronted by Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Sta­galee and other lu­mi­nar­ies

No-nukes: Af­ter the Sel­lafield leak, peo­ple didn’t un­der­stand why Ire­land would want to fol­low the same path

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