Lots of hair, cigarettes and fascinating journalism

Updated / Friday, 27 Oct 2017 13:51

'Tis the season for ghost stories and dark, mysterious passageways, so here's a warning: go into the RTÉ news online archive at your peril, because you might not find your way back out for a very long time, writes RTÉ Arts and Media Correspondent Sinead Crowley.

Sure, you'll tell yourself you're just nipping in to find out who won the All-Ireland in 1985, or if your town featured in the St Patrick's Day parade roundup in the same year.

But before long, you'll find yourself transfixed by the sight of Des Cahill sipping champagne in a first class Aer Lingus seat or moved by an interview with Seamus Heaney on the picket line with the Dunnes Stores strikers.

Before long, you'll find that an hour has passed, or more.

If news is the first rough draft of history, then these are history's edited highlights, now available for viewing on your desktop or phone.

The initial tranche of news reports, available for viewing from today, are from 1985 and for those of us who were around at the time, evoke vivid memories.

Here are moving statues, reports from the Kerry Babies Tribunal, and images of the Ethiopian famine brought home to Ireland by Fergal Keane and an RTÉ news crew.

Younger viewers will be amazed at how different things were back then, but may also be shocked at just how much has stayed the same, from industrial disputes to jobs lost and created, and the annual roundup of St Patrick's Day parades.

RTÉ News in the 1980s had a sense of reverence about technology. There are reports on the latest electronic developments – computers in banks! Microchips!

And also the story of how the news itself moved from being recorded by film cameras to being gathered and transmitted electronically.

We might laugh now at the idea of a canister of film being sent on the train from Sligo to Dublin.

But, it's hard to imagine just how exciting it must have been for those mid-'80s regional reporters suddenly to realise that they could send pictures from their local area and have them transmitted nationwide within minutes, rather than hours or even days.

Approximately 9,000 hours of news content has been digitised by @RTEArchives. Here's how the process worked: pic.twitter.com/oEbrvwj8IL

— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 27, 2017

Many of the clips have become comedic simply because of the passage of time.

You get to see familiar faces with a lot more hair, and there's plenty of cigarette smoking too.

But there is also some fascinating journalism, which charts the growth of this country during an often challenging time.

For me, one of the standout stories is an interview by former Western Editor Jim Fahy with a brother and sister whose isolated home was ransacked and burned down by thieves for the sake of around £20.

Their story is told not just in words but in the misery on their faces, and the strain they show as they turn from the camera, unable to confront the full horror of what has happened.

Jim Fahy, ever the master interviewer, knows when not to ask questions and to leave the pauses speak for themselves.

In 1985 as today, the story is still the centre of it all.


Read more:
TV news reports from 1980s and 1990s coming online
Five standout stories from the RTÉ Archives for 1985
History repeating: Are these stories from 1985 or today?
Visit the RTÉ Archives News Collection