Ireland in 1987 – The Year in Review

Hopefully, this is one of many “reeling in the years” / “year in review” styled articles that I will be posting over the next couple of months. As you might have guessed; I decided to start with 1987 because it was the year that I was born in. Although the series will be mostly centred around Ireland, I also hope to include some major world events and bits of popular media from that time.

With Or Without You

Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny the fact that U2 were at the height of their popularity back in the late eighties and early nineties. In March, 1987, the Dublin-based rock band released their critically acclaimed album The Joshua Tree, which contained chart-topping singles such as “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”:

Labour’s Withdrawal

On Tuesday, the 20th of January, 1987, the 25th Dáil was dissolved after four Labour ministers resigned from the Fine Gael-led coalition government due to a disagreement over budget proposals. This led to a general election in February, which saw Fianna Fáil regain power, with Charles Haughey returning as Taoiseach for the third and final time.


It is worth noting that this was a minority government and that it actually had the support of Fine Gael. Under what became known as the Tallaght Strategy, Fine Gael refused to oppose any of Fianna Fáil’s economic reforms. This strategy, they claimed, was in the nation’s best interests.

The National Lottery

In March of 1987, The National Lottery launched and began to sell scratch cards. However, it wasn’t until the following year that the state-owned company would introduce the 6/45 lottery draw that we’ve all become accustomed to.

Slane, 1987

On Saturday, the 11th of July, David Bowie headlined at the annual Slane Concert, with Aslan and Scottish rock band Big Country providing support:

david bowie slane

Stephen Roche

On the 26th of July, Dublin-born cyclist Stephen Roche became the first Irish man to win the Tour de France after he crossed the finish line with only meters to spare. After winning the race, Roche was so exhausted that he collapsed and required an oxygen mask. Upon regaining consciousness, he was asked if he was OK. Reportedly, his response was: “yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away!”

3 Men and a Baby

One of the top grossing movies of the year was a comedy film called 3 Men and a Baby, which starred actors Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson. The storyline revolved around three bachelors as they attempted to adjust to the arrival of Danson’s love child:

Remembrance Day bombing

In November of 1987, an IRA bomb exploded near a remembrance ceremony that was being held in the town of Enniskillen. The ceremony was being held in remembrance of Britain’s war dead. Ten civilians and a police officer were killed in the blast, with a further 63 people being injured. Later, the IRA would claim that it was a mistake and that they had been targeting a parade of British soldiers that had been marching towards the ceremony. The atrocity led to a drop in support for both the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein.

Remembrance Day bombing

La Bamba

This was also the year that saw the single “La Bamba” by Los Lobos reach the number one spot in several different countries around the world, including Ireland. The song was a cover of a Mexican folk song that had been originally adapted by American singer Ritchie Valens back in 1958.


On Sunday, the 20th of September, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final was held between Meath and Cork. Meath won the game by 1-14 to 0-11, thanks to a goal by Colm O’Rourke. Two weeks prior, County Galway won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship by defeating Kilkenny 1-12 to 0-9. Here are some great video highlights from the Meath and Cork game:

Euro 1988 Qualification

With only three minutes left on the clock, Scottish midfielder Gary Mackay scores the only goal in a game that puts Ireland through to the UEFA Euro Championship. This is at the expense of Bulgaria, who were favourites to win the game and progress. Later on, Irish manager Jack Charlton would speak of his shock when somebody called him to congratulate him on the result. At the time when he received the call, he didn’t realise that he had been watching a later showing of the game, in which both teams were still drawing 0-0.


Loughgall Ambush

The Loughgall Ambush was another high profile event that occurred during the troubles in Northern Ireland. On Friday, the 8th of May, 1987, eight IRA members were ambushed by the SAS as they attempted to launch an attack on the RUC base in the village of Loughgall. Tragically, the ambush also lead to the killing of Anthony Hughes, who was an innocent civilian that was driving by the base at the time. It is believed that he and his brother were mistakenly identified as members of the IRA before being fired upon from behind. This was the single biggest loss of life for the Provisional IRA.

Loughgall Ambush

Beaumont Hospital

In November, Beaumont Hospital was officially opened in Dublin. This came after the closure of two older hospitals; Jervis Street Hospital and The Richmond. Today, it is the second largest hospital in the Republic of Ireland.

Johnny Logan wins the Eurovision

Irish singer Johnny Logan delighted the nation when he won the Eurovision Song Contest in July of 1987. The song, which was called “Hold Me Now”, had been self-penned by the Australian-born singer. This was the second time that he had won the competition. Five years later, in 1992, he would go on to win it for the third time:

Path to recovery

1987 is often cited as the year that Ireland began to deal with the economic problems that had plagued it for well over a decade. Over the course of the next couple of few years, economic reforms were introduced as the minority Fianna Fáil government (backed by Fine Gael) sought to reduce the level of borrowing.


The Simpsons

This was the year that the The Simpsons were introduced as an animated short on The Tracey Ullman Show. It wasn’t until three seasons later that the family would be spun off into their very own cartoon show. Since then, creator Matt Groening and co have gone on to release 25 seasons over the course of 25 years.


Alone, by Heart

American rock band Heart released their single “Alone” in May of 1987. The song reached number three on the Irish Singles charts.

Leitrim Ploughing Championship

The National Ploughing Championship was brought to Carrigallen, County Leitrim. Here is some great Youtube footage from the event:

Iran-Contra affair

The Iran-Contra affair continued throughout 1987 as US President Ronald Reagan was forced to admit the fact that senior officials had facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran. This was despite the fact that Iran had been under an arms embargo at the time. While some officials felt that such a trade could secure the release of several western hostages in Lebanon, other senior intelligence members saw the deal as an opportunity to continue their funding of a Nicaraguan rebel group called the Contras. The Boland Amendment, which had been passed by Congress in 1982, forbade US assistance to the group.

Garret FitzGerald’s resignation

This was the year that Garret FitzGerald stepped down as leader of Fine Gael. After a heavy loss in the general election, the Dublin-born politician resigned, allowing Alan Dukes to take the hot seat. FitzGerald would go on to retire from politics in 1992. In 2011, he passed away after a serious illness.

Garret FitzGerald


In June, the movie Predator hit cinemas as Arnold Schwarzenegger and his special forces team were sent on a rescue mission to the jungles of Central America. Unfortunately for “Dutch” and his team, they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being stalked by an extraterrestrial being that likes to hunt other species for sport. Funnily enough, the movie actually received its fair share of negative reviews from film critics at the time. However, that didn’t stop it from grossing nearly $98,267,558.

Zig and Zag

1987 was the year that puppet duo Zig and Zag appeared on Dempsey’s Den for the first time. The alien twins from the planet Zog quickly went on to become a fan favourite:

RTE News and Close – 8th November 1987

I found this recording of an RTE Late News programme on Youtube. The news reader is the late Vere Wynne Jones, who passed away in July of 2006 after a long battle with cancer. The news headlines that get touched on:

  • The wife of “The Border Fox” Dessie O’Hare is arrested after a shooting incident in County Louth. The pair had been arguing outside a chip shop when his wife ran off into a public house. O’Hare responded by firing a number of shots at her before driving off with their five year old son.
  • The death toll of the Remembrance Day Bombing is noted as being 11. The victims had been waiting for the start of the Poppy Day parade in the town centre of Enniskillen when a bomb went off in a nearby community hall. At this stage, nobody had taken responsibility for the attack.
  • Security forces in the north were investigating a report that a 200 pound land mine had been planted on a road in County Fermanagh. The IRA claimed that the land mine in question had failed to go off during a UDR patrol.
  • The RUC report that eight youths were taken to hospital after a shooting incident on the Antrim road in North Belfast. Nobody was seriously hurt.
  • British security forces are inspecting a suspect device that was found in a van in the centre of Belfast. A man was taken into custody for questioning.
  • A weather forecast reports scattered showers with some longer spells of rain in places at first. Clearing from the North West during the night.

After the news segment, we are shown a scheduling preview of the TV shows that RTE were due to broadcast over the course of the next week. This is before a young Kieran Fitzgerald “closes” the channel for the night. Fitzgerald would go on to become the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commissioner.

Vincent Hanley

In April, RTE presenter and DJ Vincent Hanley passed away after an AIDS-related illness. Hanley had spent the previous three years presenting the TV show MT-USA, which was an Irish version of MTV. The Tipperary native was the first Irish celebrity to die from the virus.

vincent hanley

The Session

A video of The Pogues performing on the RTE show The Session. It is worth noting that was the year that they released their hit single Fairytale of New York.

Gerry “Lambo” Ryan

This was the year that RTE presenter Gerry Ryan earned himself the nickname Lambo. As part of a segment for The Gay Byrne Show, Gerry and a group of volunteers spent some time in the wilderness of Connemara, which is in the west of Ireland. The nickname was coined when the presenter claimed that he had killed and eaten a lamb in order to survive. It is worth noting that the story turned out to be untrue.

gerry ryan

Car Registration Numbers

We also saw the introduction of the new vehicle registration plates, which contained the year, the sequence of registration and the county that the vehicle was registered in. Before 1987, it had been based on the alphabetical order of the county:

ford cortina 1987