My youngest turns 20 in June. I can’t remember life without him in it, but I feel like those twenty years have gone by in a flash. They say as you get older the years go quicker. Take my word for it, that is very true. The Ireland of 20 years ago bears no reflection to the one we live in now.
In 1998 I didn’t have a mobile phone, neither did any of my friends or family. For entertainment, we watched TV, usually the home stations RTE1, RTE2 and TG4. In September 1998 they got a new rival. TV3, an independent, commercial alternative. For English channels, we were dependent on cable television provider Chorus, but in October digital satellite television came to Ireland, operated by Sky Digital and opened up a whole new world to us.
We flocked to the cinemas, we still do, but in 1998 our cinemas were mainly single screens and locally owned. We went there to watch Armageddon, Saving Private Ryan, Godzilla, There’s something about Mary, Deep Impact and Shakespeare in Love. We brought the kids to see A Bug’s life and Mulan.
Mary McAleese was our president and Bertie Ahern was our Taoiseach with Mary Harney as Tánaiste. The Celtic Tiger hadn’t yet been born but the twinkle was there in Bernie’s eye. As a nation, we were sure about our future in Europe and our place in the world, due in no small measure to the Good Friday Agreement, the most significant event of 1998 for the people of Ireland, north and south. It was the promise of peace, the building blocks for a new era. The people of Ireland endorsed it by referendum a month later with the majority on both parts of this island voting in favour and Ireland looked forward instead of back with a new confidence in ourselves.
On Saturday 29th August that confidence was shaken by the dreadful news of a massive bomb in Omagh. 29 people died that morning and hundreds were injured. It was a day which will scar our memories for years to come. But perseverance and hard work on all sides kept the agreement on track. Bill Clinton came to visit in September and we gave him a hero’s welcome, along with Tony Blair, when they spoke to the people of Omagh and to the whole island. Then in October 1998, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to John Hume and David Trimble. The Norwegian Nobel Committee ‘expresses the hope that the foundations which have now been laid will not only lead to lasting peace in Northern Ireland, but also serve to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.’
Yes, 1998 was a momentous year for the island of Ireland culminating with the demise of the punt on 31st December and the launch of the Euro on the first day of the new year.
But on the world stage, the most momentous event of 1998, was the formation in California of ‘Google Inc.’ It is hard to believe that 20 years ago we had never heard of Google. It is now listed in the Oxford dictionary as a verb, i.e., ‘search for information about someone or something on the internet using the search engine Google.’ I googled that information! How else would you access information on practically anything in this universe and beyond it? It is an amazing resource, utilised by millions of people every day. Google’s European headquarters is in Dublin, employing over 7,000 people. Don’t know about you, but twenty years ago I wouldn’t have thought it possible that any internet company could employ that number of people, especially not in little old Dublin.
Immediate access to information has changed the world we live in. If we want to know something, instead of weeks of research at the library or other research centres, we now ‘google’ our query and get immediate answers and thousands more questions. The trick is to decipher which information is relevant and correct.
We have hundreds of television channels yet watch only a select few. Currently one of the most popular programs is one which stars ordinary people watching television, (if you haven’t yet experienced the humanity of Gogglebox, indulge, it is unique).
We have the highest mobile phone ownership in Europe so we can keep in constant contact with each other, yet how often have you seen groups of teenagers starring into their phones and forgetting to communicate with each other. In our hurry to explore new methods of communication, have we forgotten the joy of human interaction?