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Race and Ireland. An incident in Limerick in 1979… August 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Society, Uncategorized.

While we’re still digesting the news about P. Rabbitte, thought I’d throw this out. I was watching Siar sna Seachtóidí on TG4 [and on my internet browser the fada’s don’t come up properly, which is odd for what is presumably and primarily an Irish language website] some weeks back, which covered news stories from 1970s. The year was 1979. Fabulous stuff. Happy Man was the entry in the Eurovision, a song that managed to marry Neil Diamond and Abba in a toothgrinding combination. Gay Byrne flirted with the Rose of Tralee. Princess Grace of Monaco, Irish/French accent in tow, opened the Theater Festival.

20,000 people marched in the Wood Quay protests but the diggers went in anyway. Hundreds of thousands marched in the PAYE Tax protests, and nothing was done about it. Jack Lynch resigned as Taoiseach.

Watching the footage it wasn’t hard to believe that Ireland was in some small way a sort of cousin of the Eastern bloc. Everything was drab browns and grey. The news reports filled with shiny mens suits and flammable looking womens dresses.

But in amidst all that was a remarkable, and troubling, story about four Nigerian students in NIHE in Limerick who were refused entry to the Savoy venue in the city.

The students said that they were told blacks weren’t allowed in.

When the media caught hold of the story the excuses provided by the management ranged from the absurd, “…other students had used foul language…” to the pathetic… “confusion over pricing” and finally “…the venue was full and because they were in the overspill they weren’t allowed in”.

Planxty, who had been booked to play the Savoy a couple of nights later, cancelled their gig and moved it to NIHE in solidarity with the students, and a petition was organised in the college.

A small incident. But revealing for the range of responses both good and bad. Does anyone remember anything further about it? Were there any repercussions?


1. Eagle - August 24, 2007

… and on my internet browser the fada’s don’t come up properly, which is odd for what is presumably and primarily an Irish language website

That’s what you get for using an Apple!


2. simon - August 24, 2007

Were there any repercussions?
28 years later someone blogged about it


3. WorldbyStorm - August 24, 2007

It’s a start…


4. Idris of Dungiven - August 26, 2007

Why dig this up 28 years after the event?

Well, it helps to remind us that racism is actually not anything new in Irish culture, but has been around for quite some time. I certainly remember the lads I went to school having a great liking for racist ‘jokes’. Going by the content, these ‘jokes’ (which I’m not going to repeat here) must have been doing the rounds from the time of the Civil Rights movement in the US. . .


5. Shane - August 26, 2007

you are using firefox?
I think you go to View
then character encoding
then WEstern ~ISO


6. WorldbyStorm - August 27, 2007

Thanks, I’ll give that a shot…


7. Bock the Robber - August 27, 2007

I don’t remember it, even though I’m from Limerick. I’ll askaround.

I don’t quite get why you would choose this one particular incident in Limerick 28 years ago, though. Were there no other racist incidents in all of Ireland before or after this?


8. Idris of Dungiven - August 27, 2007

Yes, the Limerick pogrom, for example. 😉


9. Idris of Dungiven - August 27, 2007

Sorry, that was out of order. 😦


10. Bock the Robber - August 27, 2007

That’s ok, Idris. The word “pogrom” is probably overstating it a bit, but it was a disgraceful episode, orchestrated by a member of the Redemptorist order (a fine Christian man) and it reflected the general anti-Jewish feeling that existed throughout Ireland at the time. That sort of ignorance was widespread, and still pervades the entire country.

As for other racist incidents, I’m sure it would be possible to draw up quite a catalogue for every town in the country. That’s why I was a little bemused that a particular incident 28 years ago would have such significance. Maybe I’m missing something.


11. WorldbyStorm - August 27, 2007

Just curious Bock that’s all. It was on the programme, clearly someone on it thought it had some significance. I thought the response of Planxty and the NIHE students was heartening. I wondered was there any after effect, or did anyone know any more about it.

In a way I also thought the cackhanded approach of the venue owners was extremely telling. Was that symptomatic of the times, or atypical?


12. Shane - August 27, 2007

Two things regards original piece.
Firstly was talking to somebody recently about Queer history in Limerick and they referred to particularly bad incidents of gay bashing in Limerick in the 80s which was partly orchestrated it seems by security staff from a venue closely associated with the venue in the article here. Of course gay bashing was also very common in other Irish cities at the time (fairview park etc).
The second thing was I came across this link recently and was wondering about context to the National Movement mentioned in the piece. IF they had this kind of support in early 70s I sure it helped allow racist ideas to sit comfortably in Limerick at the time.
>>The NSIWP was true Nazi and was small, but when allied with the National Movement (LImerick-based from 1968-72) there were about 70 members in all, which rose to 300 at the time they welcomed the Springboks to Limerick in 1969 (I think)
and battled a thousand left wingers to a standstill in the streets of
Limerick. National Movement was led by John Buckley, 21 Colbert
Avenue, Janesboro, Limerick City, a striking figure and an even more
striking public speaker, a window dresser in the old Cannocks
Department Store in Limerick, brilliant orators at the top, tough hard
fighters too ! I met them as a reporter for the Munster Express at a
time when they actually controlled the streets of Limerick and kept
the Left down !<<


13. WorldbyStorm - August 27, 2007

That’s very interesting, cheers for the link. Any further information about this “National Movement”?


14. Bock the Robber - August 28, 2007

Sorry about the hiatus. My neighbour called in and forced me to go for a pint.

There must be a parallel universe involving another Limerick, because I just don’t recognise the town these people describe. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I’m only saying it isn’t the place I grew up in.


15. WorldbyStorm - August 28, 2007

All these groups/incidents are marginal. That’s key to this. So therefore, as Bock as you rightly implicitly suggest, it’s not right to blow them out of proportion or indeed to localise them to a single place or time. Still, the broader issue of racism and far right racist activism in the 1970s and 1980s is in general societal terms something worth considering in detail…


16. Bock the Robber - August 29, 2007

You’re right. Unfortunately, attributing these kinds of behaviour to a particular place lets everyone else off the hook and obscures deeper problems within Irish society.

I must find out more about those bouncers.


17. Bock the Robber - August 29, 2007

On a side issue, Shane mentioned queer-bashing associated with the Savoy (which is now demolished). Ironically, the same establishment in later years was home to a very successful gay nightclub.


18. Shane - August 30, 2007

I agree Bock, with what you say, just the two items I pointed out were things I found out about in the last few weeks. In fact in the week that is in it, I’m spending morning, noon and night, thinking about Limerick and wishing ourselves positive vibes for Sunday!

Anyway tying all the above strands together possibly was controversial right wing Labour Td for the city Stevie Coughlan 61-77. John Horgan in ‘Labour:The Price of Power talks of how Coughlan clashed publicly in 69/70 with some Labour TDs- (Barry Desmond) who protested on the streets against the Springboks, a match, Coughlan made a point of attending.
Coughlan’s most controversial outburst was a speech about ‘historical aspects of the Jewish Commercial presence in Limerick’ where he used the words ‘bloodsuckers’ and ‘extortionists’. He later had to apologise.
Harking back to a previous post here
Coughlan upon hearing that a local had discharged shots through the window of a maoist bookshop stated that ‘Any fellow with one eye open and the other closed could see this coming. I am vehemently opposed to these people’. So much for left unity.


19. WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2007

Coughlan was typical of a certain sort of Labourism, wasn’t he? All parties are fiefdoms to some degree, but at least a hint of ideological consistency is good and Labour for a fair bit didn’t have that. In a way it makes the rise of a disciplined op like SFWP all the more explicable…


20. Limerick Mike - April 6, 2008

I have all the clippings from the Limerick Leader about that incident at the savoy in 1979. The 4 Nigerian students were told by the doorman that they were being refused admission by order of management. A limerick Leader journalist actually witnessed and heard this exchange. In the ensuing days the Savoy management reacted with amazing stupidity and incredible defensiveness to what had occurred. The initial ‘explanation’ was so garbled and incomprehensible that it just kept the story rolling. When Leader journalists and reps of the students met Savoy management they became offensive in their language (management did, I mean). An official from the Nigerian embassy in Dublin came down to investigate, met the mayor of the time, Bobby Byrne and reps of the Savoy. Eventually the Savoy ran an apology of sorts in the spot in the paper where they usually advertised their events and offered to run a gig or event gratis for the students. I don’t think the offer was taken up. A few days after the scheduled Planxty gig Gallagher & Lyle played there and there were furher gigs there early in 1980 by Horslips and the Undertones so the venue didnt suffer any long term boycott.


21. WorldbyStorm - April 6, 2008

Thanks for that Limerick Mike. I’m a bit amazed Horslips and the Undertones played there subsequently.


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