(Originally broadcast on Sunday Miscellany 2013)
Summer 1979. Ireland had a postal strike that lasted four months, 200,000 people took to the streets to demand changes to the tax system and protesters battled to save the Wood Quay site from development. Brendan Shine was at No 1 asking “if we wanted our old lobby washed down?” I don’t think that was a euphemism but I still have no idea what he was on about. I was more interested in Gloria Gaynor realising she could survive and Debbie Harry’s heart of glass.
In the midst of all this unrest I was doing my Leaving Cert and preparing to enter the real world now that my education was over. 1979 was the summer I had waited for, for years. This would be the summer I would bid farewell to the terrifying nuns, to my green uniform and more importantly this was the summer that I would embrace a grown up social life and meet lots of boys. It was that beautiful oasis between education and work; a summer to savour freedoms of all kinds after years of rules and regulations.
The first taste of the promise that summer held came on a sunny Saturday in May. My mother, feeling I needed a break from the study, insisted I accompany her to the Annual Dun Laoghaire Garden Party. In the sun we shared a bottle of wine…. for the first time. A couple of hours later as we both giggled our way up Marine Road, two guys passed us on the opposite side of the street. One was very tall and had long leather clad legs which immediately caught my attention. Once they had passed I decided to risk a second glance. As I turned around, so did he. Eyes met and we both laughed. And I fell in love, in the way you do when you are 17.
May melted into June and during the long weeks of attempting to cram my brain with all sorts of useless information, I wondered about Sexy Long Legs. Being six feet tall, I always knew that I was going to have a problem finding a boy to take to my Debs. But summer would provide me the opportunity to track him down and secure his company for my big night in November.
Finally exams were finished and we raced out of our convent school and into our futures which we seemed to think we would find in Dunelles pub. Located in the basement of the new and shiny Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre it was a windowless, dark, cavern; like a private club for penniless youth. Singer Dominic Mulvaney and his guitar wove the music of Dylan, Young and Croce into my memories of the place. There was magic and lots of funny smelling smoke in the air.
The best spot in Dunelles was a booth which had a view of the stairs. There me and the girls would play the ‘whose legs are those’ as they descended into the murky half light. And it didn’t take long for those familiar Sexy Long Legs to make a confident swaggering descent. He knew everyone, except me.
Meanwhile Aer Lingus’s first female pilot got her wings, boat people refugees arrived from Vietnam and the country got ready to welcome the Pope. My main worry was my Debs and the fact that the clock was ticking. I had to get to know Sexy Long Legs enough to ask him to accompany me before someone else did.
Nights in Dunelles dissolved into each other and then in late July it happened. I was standing on Marine Road, waiting for the last 46a home when he joined the queue. Trying to act cool but feeling very hot under the collar I boarded the bus and he sat on the seat in front of me and offered me a Rothmans. Through a cloud of smoke, I abandoned small talk and got right to the point. “Would you fancy coming to my Debs in November” I gushed at him. “Yeah, why not” he answered, “that will be three Debs Balls this autumn.” It wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for.
Next night in Dunelles I couldn’t wait to see my date again. In he arrived and as he breezed past, the only change was that he now said “Hi Barbara”. Slowly the realisation dawned that my asking him to my Debs had not conferred any changed status on our relationship. In fact I was just last in a queue of three dates he would be accompanying on their big nights too.
But me and the girls had found the social life we craved and we had met lots of boys. Summer rumbled on with nights ending with either a visit to The Ritz on Patrick’s Street for a bag of chips or a walk to The Forum Cinema in Glasthule where the only late night movie ever on was ‘Pink Floyd Live In Pompeii’. We endured the heavy metal for the thrill of being surrounded in the dark by the unfamiliar musky aroma of male bodies.
As August died, The Boomtown Rats were declaring they don’t like Mondays and in town, a new punk band called U2 were playing in McGonagles.
Summer faded into autumn and I continued to try desperately to capture the heart of Sexy Long Legs. Finally on a warm September day he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk down the Pier. By the lighthouse we shared my first joint and afterwards lay on the grass in Moran’s Park watching the clouds and then we kissed. The sheer boldness of that day was thrilling in a way I still can’t articulate.
An enormous, ugly library now squats on what used to be Moran’s Park with its dark recesses, neat lawns, mysterious deep black pool and where the birdsong was interspersed by the gentle twang of lawn bowls. It was a great place to lie in the grass and savour first love and the last summer of true freedom – that delicious gap between the world of education and that of work.
And yes ‘sexy long legs’ accompanied me to my Debs and looked even finer than he did in his leather trousers… but…. “sin sceal eile” (that’s another story).
The image above is of a painting by local artist Jim Scully. Check out his website here