As most of my readers will know, Dublin was founded as a Viking city (although I understand some kind of settlement existed before the Vikings came). The choice of 1988 as Dublin's millennium year was pretty arbitrary. The year the Vikings founded their city seems to be given as 841 on most websites. The thousand-year anniversary apparently relates to the time that the Norse King of Dublin agreed to pay taxes to the Irish High King, who bore my name. (Even here, apparently, the dating might be out a bit!)
I've heard the theory (which seems reasonable to me) that the Dublin Millennium was announced to give Dubliners some reason for celebration. The late eighties were famously crummy in Ireland. All anyone ever seemed to talk about were recession, unemployment, emigration, the Troubles, and drugs. And so, the theory goes, someone in local government came up with this idea to give Dubliners a boost.
This is actually the reason I found myself thinking about the subject. I was reflecting that this kind of benign paternalism actually appeals to me. Why is paternalism always seen as a bad thing?
I was eleven years old when the Dublin Millennium was celebrated. Of course, I took it seriously. But what surprises me, looking back, is how seriously adults seemed to take it, too.
For one thing, my father issued a special "Millennium edition" of his magazine, the Ballymun News. At the time, he was running a community centre (which was eventually destroyed by vandals), and giving training to local young people there, as part of a government scheme. The young people wrote articles for the Millennium edition of the magazine, and I can still (incredibly) remember whole verses of one poem entitled "Don't Let Dublin Fade":
As I walk through this city
All that I can see
Is Dublin keeps on changing
All its history
By tearing down the places
Where history was made.
I don't like the dawning
Of this new age.
Don't let Dublin fade
Don't let it disappear
Now that we have reached
Our Millennium year
Think of all the people
Who fought and died
So the people of today
Could walk their streets with pride.
(The poem was quite topical, as the tearing down of historical buildings was a subject of considerable controversy at this time. I think things have improved since then.)
The most famous element of the Millennium celebrations was the Dublin millennium fifty pence piece. Of course, this was before our national currency had been borged into the euro. ("Borged" is a verb derived from the Borg in Star Trek. Enough said.)
I think few images would be more reminiscent of eighties Ireland, at least to Dubliners, than the millennium fifty pence piece. They were quite handsome things. I liked their medieval flavour. (I like their distinctive shape, too, but that was common to all fifty pence coins.) I can remember children collecting these. I wonder how many still have them?
Another very memorable aspect of the Dublin Millennium was the Hagar the Horrible cartoons on Cara matchboxes. ('Cara' means friendship in Irish.) Hagar the Horrible, as most readers will know, was a Viking cartoon character in newspaper cartoons. I can't find any reference to these special edition match-boxes on the internet.
My school engaged in various Millennial activities. A wall in the assembly hall was painted with a medieval Dublin-themed mural. I can't remember if the children themselves had a hand in it or whether a professional artist did it all. The former, I think.
The professional artist, a rather old fat man, was knocking around at this time. I remember he would supervise our art classes. Once he looked at my easel and complimented the slates that I was painting, taking over from me and adding some more, quite enthusiastically. They weren't slates at all, but I didn't say anything. I can't remember what they were.
The slogan for the Millennium was "Dublin's great in '88!", which was pretty catchy. You still here it cited now and again. A recent advertisement for an online betting shop, or an online casino, had professional snooker player Ken Doherty boasting that he could gamble while wearing a "Dublin's great in '88" t-shirt, pyjamas bottoms, and slippers.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Dublin millennium was a creative project undertaken by my class-mates. They started building a cardboard model of medieval Dublin. This began on a small-scale but grew larger and larger, until it was at risk of taking over the class-room. This went on for weeks or maybe even months, and became a subject for jokes. Then everybody lost interest. I was offered the entire model to take home (because nobody else wanted it). I didn't want it, either. I remember feeling surprised by this whole phenomenon because I regarded myself as the creative, imaginative member of the class, and I regarded my class-mates as soulless, mindless cretins. And yet this whole thing happened more or less without me. (I think I added one small piece to it.)
There's still a Dublin Millennium logo worked into the brickwork on the side of the Stephen's Green shopping centre, in Dublin City Centre. More notably, the famously buxom Molly Malone statue, which used to stand on Grafton Street but is now on Suffolk Street, was built and unveiled as part of the Dublin Millennium celebrations. It's a good statute. I wish Dublin had more like it.
I'm glad the Dublin Millennium happened. I'm glad of the cultural memories, the landmark in time it created. I wish there more such things. Dublin may not have been great in eighty-eight, but it was a valiant effort.