The opening of the Naas bypass in 1983
IN the latest of his series of nostalgic looks back at growing up in Kildare during the 1980s, Robert Mulhern casts his eye back 24 years...
1983 — it was the year that the course of Naas was changed forever by eight kilometres of tarmac laid in loop from the south to the north of town.
Up until then, any local use of the word bypass had been reserved for conversations about health, not heavy traffic management.
But gone forever were the tailbacks suffered by weary travellers trekking south from Dublin and fighting spasms of clutch-cramp brought on by the stop-again start-again drive up toward the Town Hall.
Only it felt like the issue of traffic control had just been pushed on down further to the big parking lot in Tougher’s, where the heavy scent of T-bone steak hooked hungry passing truckers.
We cruised up and down the new bypass, listening to RTÉ’S Larry Gogan spin Too Shy from Kajagoogoo, Billy Joel declare his love for some girl he’d met uptown and Boy George sing his hit Karma Chameleon.
He was like nothing we’d seen; nothing that could ever hope emerge from Paddy Coleman’s or Terry Michael’s, caked in make-up and kitted out in flowery trousers.
We speculated how George might cut it in Naas in 1983, and that didn’t feel like an impossible happening either, because George had some some kid of tenuous connection with the McHugh family from Dublin who lived nearby.
They’d be singing Karma Chameleon into an invisible microphone, talking about him in familiar tones and telling us all how one day he just might call by!
When Shergar went missing it felt like he’d have to join a big queue.
And everyone was going about the place saying the same thing in the same defeated style: “They took him!”
Only no one seemed to know who ‘they’ were, or why?
Not the Guards. Not yer man, the detective Jim Murphy, with the hat on the telly. Not the people in the town with ties to them in the racing.
Sure, between camera crews filming cars streaming up and down the new bypass and international news organisations running power leads out of Ballymany Stud — the site of Shergar’s abduction — it didn’t feel like there’d be enough electricity left for the TV production team that had by then set up within spitting distance of Tougher’s.
There, between Naas and Newbridge, Major Yeates from the TV show The Irish RM started looking into our living rooms from a location just kilometres down the road.
Us trying to make sense of him and him trying make sense of country life in Ireland, with the show set in the late 1800s!
On the opening credits, The Irish RM looked all green and great stone buildings with Yeates strutting about Morristown Lattin Stud in Newhall, along with Flurry Knox.
It was all tweed and bowler hats, that looked a damn sight better than the one worn by Jim Murphy, still on the trail somewhere of the missing horse.
We used to wonder if we’d ever see Niall Tobin’s character Slipper doing a tea-run run from the set to Tougher’s.
I guessed they got lured in there, like us and the truck drivers.
And there was Lady Knox, who of course lived in Castle Knox in The Irish RM, though I never understood why the signposts to this old building close to Naas read Furness Manor, and not Castle Knox.
The film crew eventually ended up shooting episodes in Robertstown, but not before a baking summer that was headlined by the Australian band Men at Work who were singing Down Under.
Then, the temperatures in Kildare boiled to a temperature so life-threateningly hot, that all the grown-ups were saying “it would kill ye!”
The heat haze rose up from the tarmac of the new bypass and all the way up to Baldonnel, close to the Kildare border.
Someone said the Mexican jet in the news after it accidentally landed in Mallow Racecourse would have had a better chance of getting airborne again had the pilot diverted to said airfield.
Someone else said he’d have a better chance if he was stuck at the 2f pole in Naas Racecourse rather the 2f pole in Mallow.
Either way, he got out and we were up in Ballycane primary school singing Billie Jean by Michael Jackson and waiting for him to invent the Moonwalk.
It was a mania Boy George could only dream of… even if he made it to Naas.
Robert Mulhern is a London based journalist contracted to RTE's The Documentary on One. To contact our columnist, email email@example.com
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