Memories of a Suburban Irish Childhood
By Joseph O'Connor
IN THE SUMMER OF 1977 I was thirteen years old and pretty miserable with my life. My parents' marriage - unhappy for a long time - had finally disintegrated in acrimonious circumstances.
We lived in Glenageary, a middle-class housing estate in southside Dublin. There was a large stain caused by damp on the gable wall of our house, and if you glanced at it in a certain light, it looked exactly like the map of Ireland. I always thought this meant something important, but I could never figure out what. In the summer of 1977, with only myself and my mother living there now, the house seemed unutterably empty, haunted by lost expectations.
We didn't see eye to eye, my mother and myself. Sometimes, when we argued, she would throw me out of the house; other times I would simply walk out to get away from her. So I spent a good deal of the very hot summer of 1977 just wandering the streets of Dublin, by myself.
And an odd thing was happening in Dublin in the summer of 1977. At first, in my hometown, punk rock was nothing much more than a feeling. I mean, nobody knew very much about it. Punk had been initially perceived as just another English invention, I suppose; another weird Limey oddity, in the same culturally wacko league as eel pie and pantomime dames. It's important to say that this was a time when Dublin did not really figure on the world rock and roll map. We had Thin Lizzy and occasional gigs by Rory Gallagher, a handful of younger Irish bands.
There was a quartet of northside born-again Christians who played Peter Frampton songs, and who, it was said by some, would never amount to much. (That summer, they were changing their name from The Hype to U2.) And that was about it. The city had no pop culture. But in the summer of 1977, when I was thirteen years old, into this vacuum stepped a monstrous and slavering spirit.
I got a job that July, on a local building site. One of the labourers was a cadaverous, scrawny young fella, and it turned out that he would play a significant role in my musical education. Hubert was about nineteen, from a nearby working-class suburb which he sometimes referred to as 'Sallyfuckinnoggin'. His language was flamboyantly atrocious, and so was his skin. There were two things that made Hubert's life complete. The first was pornography. The second was punk rock. He loved it. He absolutely adored punk rock, and he would talk to me about it for hours at a time. He told me about an establishment in town called Moran's Hotel, in the basement of which there were punk rock concerts almost every night. It was all about being 'against society', he said; it was about 'smashing the system'. Hubert himself was 'against society', he assured me fervently. There were legions of people in the basement of Moran's Hotel every night of the week who were also 'against society', and they had stuck safety pins through their ears, cheeks and noses to prove it.
The bands who played in Moran's Hotel were against society too, all of them. But the worst of the lot, Hubert confided, the mankiest shower of louse-ridden, no-good, low-down bowsies ever to plug in a Marshall, ram up the volume and hammer out a three-chord trick, was a year-old band called The Boomtown Rats. They were 'fuckin' scum,' Hubert would say, and he would smile in a fondly contented way when he said this, as though attaining the state of fuckin' scumhood was a development in which a person would take considerable pride. 'They don't even fuckin' wash themselves,' he would beam diabolically, although how he was in a position to know such a thing remained unrevealed (perhaps mercifully). I would have loved to go to Moran's Hotel, of course, but being under-age, I couldn't. Yet I was frantically curious about this crowd of licentious and festering reprobates, The Boomtown Rats.