Keep In Touch!

There was a time in the 1990s where the sight of an empty telephone box would prompt me, my brother, my cousins and thousands of other children across Ireland (including a boy in Sligo I had yet to meet) to race into it and frantically search for discarded treasure. The treasure in question here was a rectangular piece of plastic with an embedded metallic chip and a blue stripe across the top. It was, of course, the Telecom Éireann callcard.

Callcard collecting had taken the country by storm. While my collection was proudly blu-tacked to my bedroom wall, the aforementioned boy in Sligo was infinitely more organised, with a far better array of cards, all neatly slotted into plastic sheets and kept in a folder. Seeing as my callcards are now gathering dust in a biscuit tin in an attic in Waterford and that organised boy is now grown up and my boyfriend, I’ve pilfered some of his impressive collection for the purposes of this post.

There were the common and frankly boring ones that everyone had at least two or three of, the ubiquitous horse racing, cottage, Irish dancing and Trinity callcards.

There was the mystical quartet of Irish folklore-inspired callcards, the fairly common Niamh from Tír na nÓg and the Children of Lir ones (while I was taking that picture I involuntarily burst into that song about Tír na nÓg from primary school, you know, the one that goes “Niamh Cínn Ór, SEA! As Tír na nÓg, SEA!” I couldn’t remember any more of it though, other than a bit where you’d shout “Cad a rinne siad!”). More elusive however, were Deirdre of the Sorrows and Oisín returning from Tír na nÓg, as they were the big guns at 50 and 100 units.

Annual competitions were held, where children could submit their designs and the winner would be granted the highest honour in the land and their picture would be made into an ACTUAL CALLCARD. I can’t remember if I ever entered it, but I do remember thinking to myself each time the winner was unveiled that I should have, because I had decided I could have TOTALLY beaten that. Although the one on the top right actually still holds up rather well.

Seasonal callcards were for the committed collectors, as you’d have to wait a full year for the next in a series. As such, there were of course Christmas callcards, which couldn’t quite seem to branch out all that much past their “Santa in a phone box” idea.

Commemorative callcards were kind of a big deal, with big exciting events in the Irish calendar marked the best way Telecom Éireann knew how. The Lovely Girls Competition was no exception.

Limited edition cards marked particularly big gigs, where international superstars would grace The Point Depot with their sparkling presence, including Garth Brooks – around that time in the 90s when Ireland as a whole went a bit mad for Garth, his impressive shirts and line dancing. Also, it would seem that Blink were deemed important enough to get their own callcard. I have a vague memory of a song called “Cello” and I know that they’re the reason Blink 182 had to add the 182 to their name, but other than that I have no idea how the above happened.

DISNEY CALLCARDS! How exciting!

It would seem that every so often, Telecom Éireann would get a little low on ideas for new callcards. So what do you do when you’re fresh out of children’s drawings and things to commemorate? Why you issue a callcard of callcards, of course! How very meta of them.

Then there were the RARE callcards. Rumours would abound of how there were only a certain amount printed, or there’d be a version with a misprint or slightly different text or some other tiny detail that would seem insignificant to the public at large. But not to the avid collector, OH NO. The picture above is a selection of the cards which my boyfriend reckons are among the rarer of his collection. Personally, I haven’t a breeze but I do like the Tia Maria one. You’ll notice that it and the Carrowmore Dolmens cards are STILL IN THE PLASTIC. That’s commitment.

And finally, I decided to share my favourite callcard in his collection. Which just had to be the one above, as  the combination of Zig and Zag AND callcards make for the perfect storm of mid-Nineties Irish childhood. I also chose it because I remember the Yoplait ad campaign they fronted and used to love the TV ad for it. “I vant to speak to the yoghurt!” “To the yoghurt?” “Ja, the smooth, creamy yoghurt!”.

Anyone…? No? Oh it’s not just me and YOU KNOW IT.

(by Kitty Catastrophe)

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20 thoughts on “Keep In Touch!

  1. Tupp_ed says:

    I worked near the dedicated Telecom Eireann callcard collectors shop they opened in Dame lane in the 90s. It had callcards unavailable anywhere else.

    They might have had their own plastic card printer, as I faintly remember them offering to turn your photo into a one off callcard, if you bought an expensive enough one.

    But I might have just dreamed that.

  2. I have a Dash card (and leaflet) from the 1995, I think it was, test run for what’s now the Leap card. Took CIE a little while to produce the finished article.

  3. fústar says:

    There’s something quite unsettling and poignant about the composition of the Santa one on the bottom left. Facing away from us, body language decidedly non-jolly, as we guiltily eavesdrop. A lonely figure lost in a vast snow-scape. It looks like he’s receiving news about the death of a former elf, or something. Dudley Moore maybe.

  4. That’s dedication right there – I have NO idea where mine went. I had so many Niamh ones, her hair used to get on my wick. The only one I have left is one with the Irish football team on it, haven’t a clue what year though. Maybe ’94? The thrill of finding one in a phonebox….
    Every so often I get the urge to buy a load of used ones, then I remember I’ve absolutely no use for them. Ahhh,nostalgia….

    • fústar says:

      Mythical ones were, I assume, by Pauline Bewick. She being the sort of ethereal (Enya-esque) yang to Jim Fitzpatrick’s muscular (Celtic action hero) yin.

  5. Oliver Farry says:

    I had forgotten all about these curios from an era that was very much the dusty ante-room to the Celtic Tiger. Thanks for this Proustian jolt, which brings me back to a time when I was “doing a line” with a girl from distant Ballaghaderreen (all of 15 miles away) and, for some reason, didn’t want my parents making too many enquiries. So I had a perpetual stash of call cards which I used at the phonebox outside Ballymote Post Office. The lingering whiff of stale fags, leather jackets and tattered phone books is coming back to me now.

    I remember the Blink phonecard very well, which I found weird at the time – I think Telecom Eireann confused ‘limited edition’ with ‘of limited interest’. Not many forgettable jangly pop bands get to be immortalised in telecommunications ephemera.

  6. robbiesexton says:

    I played in the above mentioned band Blink. You’re dead right we had no right to have our own Callcard….
    As I remember it the clever people in EMI suggested to Telecom Eireann that a good way to promote callcards was to put popular artists on them and they kindly offered to give them Tina Turner and Garth Brooks. You can guess what the trade off was!
    It was great publicity for us but of course not one of us has a copy of the callcard today. Doh!

    • Oliver Farry says:

      That’s a nice wee anecdote, Robbie. Sorry if I was a bit dismissive. I did post ‘Going to Nepal’ on a friend’s Facebook page before his trip last year though, so Blink clearly weren’t that forgettable. 😉

      • robbiesexton says:

        Ha Ha! Not at all I’m still surprised anyone still remembers the name to be honest. And the fact we ended up on a callcard in the first place was a bit mental.

    • Oh wow! That’s mad, Robbie! If it’s any consolation, it turns out that my boyfriend actually has two extra Blink callcards, they’re not in great shape now, pretty yellowed and scratched but you’re welcome to have them if you’d like.

      • robbiesexton says:

        Thanks a mil for the offer. I put out the feelers to friends and family after reading the blogpost and I just secured one in mint condition. Result!

    • fústar says:

      Robbie, it’s a kind of immortality. Don’t knock it. I’m jealous.

  7. Ah!!! I remember the Pochantas, Niamh of Tír na nÓg, Children of Lir ones. I used to get a lift into primary school with a boy who lived on my estate (in Sligo as it happens) and this was at the height of the Garth Brooks mania in Ireland. The dad had one of the Brooks callcards and he would blast his Brooks tapes on the way back from school, so whenever I’d hear a Brooks song it would make me think of hometime, the end of the school day! I even did line dancing classes for a period….

    I think remember my Dad having a Eurovision callcard in 1997 or so. He was also part of the Voices of the World choir and he has the commemorative callcard gathering dust somewhere in one of his drawers.

    I’m rambling now, but thanks for this post, amazing how it brought back a lot of happy memories. I sometimes see collections popping up on DoneDeal, wish I had been as much of a hoarder then and started collecting these!

  8. Oliver Farry says:

    Another thing I notice is how much time the Irish spent commemorating things back then. I see Sligo 750 (which I’d forgotten about, like a bad native), Trinity College 400, 35th Rose of Tralee. There was also Cork 700, the Dublin Millenium (which my father contended was years out) and the Spanish Armada 400. You couldn’t move for milestones when I were a lad.

  9. JayRow says:

    What about the urban myths that if you stuck them in the freezer overnight you’d get more units?? Or clear nail varnish over the chip part? I always heard of a cousin of a guy in sixth year or whoever having unlimited units because he managed to try out those two voodoo tricks on his card. God knows what parents thought when they’d open up the freezer of an evening and find three or four of Telecom Eireann’s finest stuck frozen solid to the Captain Birds’ Eye fish fingers box…

  10. Paul C says:

    Can anyone remember the prices of the various cards?
    In college c.93 myself and my friends somehow got hold of a code that, when keyed into a payphone, would give you free calls. It only worked for a few weeks though.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      I have a vague memory of 10 units = £2 but I could be wrong.

      Another trick that worked was one we used on those new white payphones with blue buttons. These were usually installed in hallways of communal pre-1963 houses which had been converted to flats. Stick a long-ish piece of cardboard down into the coin slot and move it to the right. The display woukd change and a code could then be input which would enable calls without coins. It only worked until the next bill – when the landlord would see that there was a shortfall and prompty take action. The golden age for this stuff was 1992 to 1996 or so.

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