It was a glorious time in more ways than the football. The sun shone for a couple of weeks as if summer would never end. I was a curate in the Aran Island of Inis Meain at the time and the only bailout in sight was the water you would bail out of the bottom of a currach when fishing for mackeral.
A West German film crew stayed three weeks on the island making a documentary on the European periphery. Note that I wrote ‘West’ Germany. The Iron Curtain still stood, or hung, as the case may be, and Angela Merkel was only a slip of a girl.
The relative disappointment at Ireland’s performance in a very difficult group this time masks the fact that The Republic did not get out of their group that other time either.
Beating England and Ronnie Whelan’s goal against The Soviet Union (remember them) gave us our moral victories in the tournament. Life went on. The German film crew deliberately arrived a minute late for an appointment and laughed at the notion that they were ‘becoming Irish’.
They arranged to have an interview with Archbishop Joseph Cassidy when he would visit the Island for Confirmation. My focus switched to preparations for that ceremony as well as visiting the beach for a swim and a sunburn in the evenings.
I had written a fairly controversial novel a number of years earlier, ‘Súil Le Breith’, Cló Chonamara 1983 that dealt with a story not unlike that which came to light with regard to Archbishop Éamon Casey some years later.
The Germans were aware of that. It seemed as if they hoped to figuratively nail the Archbishop to the door of the church in the way Martin Luther had nailed up his famous articles.
They did not reckon with the sophisticated communicator who faced them. Archbishop Cassidy disarmed them with a smile and a short phrase: “I loved the book.” He continued: “A very human story…” and within a minute they were eating out of his hand. It did me no harm either to have my book endorsed by my Archbishop.
It is hard to believe now how quickly those 24 years have flown. Charlie Haughey and Margaret Thatcher were at the height of their powers. I remember writing a sketch a few years later when it looked as if the long promised Gaeltacht TV station would take another 100 years to deliver. Charlie and Maggie were still there, their longevity due to ‘angel dust,’ a subject prominent in the news at the time.
There were only two native speakers of Irish left to welcome the new station. As it happened the TV station that became TG4 was delivered some time later and has gone from strength to strength, in the process training many who have become very successful broadcasters in other stations.
The biggest change since those years, and the one which has earned eternal credit for all who helped bring it about, is the peace process. The great political problems we have now are dwarfed by those we had then. Political will and hard work can solve the financial ones too.