Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thoughts on Ireland during the 90s

I feel like rambling so ramble I shall.

My hometown 1993, before the boom.
During the boom.
Irish history will record the 1990s as a transitional period of liberalisation within Irish society. Restrictions on the sale of contraceptives was finally abolished in 1993. The same year saw the decriminalisation of homosexuality and divorce become possible in 1996.  Irish infrastructure had received over 17 billion from the EU regional development fund and the mid-90s marked the start of the 'celtic tiger' economy which saw Ireland become one of the wealthiest nations in Europe with annual GDP growths of 7 to 11% and an employment rate of 96%. Ireland became transformed from a largely agricultural country noted for Catholicism, alcoholism, emigration and poverty into a modern high tech economy fueled by low taxation and foreign investment.

As a teenager I was completely unaware of these developments. My father came from a small fishing village where people believed priests had the power to transform sinners into donkeys; my grandfather was one of the few villagers capable of filling out official forms. My mother was from a staunchly roman catholic family of nine children raised piled two and three into a bed.

I graduated the Christan Brothers School (C.B.S) in 1995 and drifted into an Institute of Technology to study software engineering despite having little desire to study IT.

Much like the country itself, the C.B.S was undergoing a period of transition between the old guard and the new generation. I was taught by a motley collection of priests and elderly teachers close to retirement and accustomed to controlling a docile class through corporal punishment; elderly teachers who were rendered helpless without leather belts to terrorise or a stinging slap to humiliate. Then there was the new generation of teachers, young and fresh from college and tossed into a pit of angry adolescent boys reared on a steady diet of rave, grunge and fashionable nihilism. We went through these new teachers one per month. Our facilities too were in that transitional phrase with Dickens era solid oak decks encased in near indestructible iron frames and unused ink well circles in the top right corners and an attached hinged seat that slapped upwards when we stood. Around 1993 we progressed to the newer models with a separate plastic chair that sometimes buckled when students swung back on two legs and a flimsy table inevitably scarred with bored student graffiti.

The school had three levels per year organized by a SAT style entrance exam.  The top level, those destined for higher level subjects that granted more university points, was largely dominated by sons of teachers or doctors or business men who graduated and become teachers or doctors or business men. The lower tier was the natural home for those from disadvantaged backgrounds with behaviour difficulties. I was in the larger middle tier alongside working class families. Bullying was rampant and I received most of it. Not physical bullying but endless hurtful teasing that made you feel worthless and alone. I dealt with this by withdrawing into myself, spending my days staring at my desk hoping not to be noticed because to be noticed was to be mocked. Worse, my teachers decided I had the ability to study at the higher level so I became the 'brainy' student of the middle tier.

So I withdrew into myself and hid inside books and inside computer games while my classmates enjoyed the rave era in their bleached blond hair and colourful kaleidoscope patterned clothing and drug fueled sex romps. Or so it seemed to me. I never knew what happened at the youth clubs and dances. They were places other people enjoyed on a Saturday night.

Once, one of the problem students from the lower tier felt sorry for me and became a bodyguard of sorts. I repaid his interest with games on my electronic watch. A decade later I was saddened to read he committed suicide with a shotgun after attempting to murder his girlfriend over an imaginary affair.

It was natural then for me to drift into IT. My final school exams were very poor. Loneliness and hiding from the world results in poor academic discipline. But the government needed workers for it's bristling IT industry and third level college places were plentiful and the entry requirements were low.

The college when I joined was undergoing yet another transitional phase with classrooms too small for the large intake of students. In those days we didn't have access to the Internet or mobile phones. I never heard of the Internet until it suddenly arrived and people were happily viewing 256 coloured interlaced images of Pamela Anderson that took five minutes to fully download on computers barely capable of running windows 3.

I mostly drifted through college, failing and repeating exams, playing my computer games in my room. The boom had mostly run it's course by the time I finally settled into a job.

Ireland during the 90s was a transitional place where the old Catholicism of my parents generation was replaced by youthful treads imported through American and English media. The history books might describe the decade as one of increasing liberalisation but I remember it as anything but. It certainly wasn't liberal towards unfashionable introverted people.

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