Getting the Phone: An Ode to Telecom Éireann

telecom eireann phone

Do you remember the first time? Yeah, Jarvis Cocker might have been smoothly singin’ about his first ride but in not-so-modern Ireland, what sticks out for lots of us in lack-of-communication land was getting the phone in for the first time. In our house, it was round about 1981. Yes, nineteen eighty one, people. A combination of my parents moving from Dublin suburbia to a Kildare village in the mid-70s and having to go back on the waiting list meant that they were held at ransom by what was then P&T for several more years until some lackey bothered to lay a line and hey presto! We Had The Phone.

Of course, Having The Phone meant any number of things for Irish households. A plethora of new cultural diktats, ephemera and behaviours had to be adopted family-and country-wide as we all got connected. Identify with any of these …?

The Device

Naturally, the first phone we got was was one of those Telecom Éireann rotary beauties that took about 25 minutes to dial. The sort that Little Mo could lay Trevor out cold with as easily as she did the iron. A solid chunk of plastic, the phone came in black by default but also came in a cream version which wasn’t quite so practical – think of all the Mr Sheening of sticky fingerprints you’d need to be doing – and was only chosen if your mother was particularly stylish and wanted her communikay device to go with her sheepskin rug bought specially from the local butchers.

Ireland is an absolutely crazy place, really, isn’t it …

Location of Said Device

The hall. Always the bloody hall. Why? Oh, because apparently you didn’t get to pick. A man just walked into your house and put it there: Telecom Éireann phone engineers evidently went on a course on Phone Jack Placement and it was decreed, by a quango on a junket, that the family telephone should be placed in a location that would most inconvenience the majority of the household. A place where all conversations would have the maximum chance of being overheard due to volume of passing traffic; a location where the sitting room door was but a mere couple of feet away so any conversation about boys would be heard easily during a quiet lull in Glenroe causing much scarlet-faced embarrassment; a place where you couldn’t drag it to the stairs because the cord wasn’t long enough and it wouldn’t fit around said sitting room door either. Sighsies.

Placement of Device

The phone table. All Irish mothers lost their reason for one of these babies. It was infra dig, you understand. You had to have one. If we could invent some sort of must-have furniture for iPads we could get ourselves out of recession in six months. Ours was a hideously uncomfortable, restrictive dark wood affair upon which no comfort was possible, and upon which the cream telephone stood, in the hall. Accessorised with a sheepskin rug. From the butchers.

Answering the Phone

All mothers immediately adopted a phone accent, especially reserved for the taking of telephone calls. Even if their normal speaking voice was pure Ceee-av-van, suddenly the cream telephone would be answered with “HELLOOOO The McDermoshhh residawance, heawww may ai help yew?”

Bonkers.

Your Dad

Once the phone was in – in the hall – your dad then became Phone Hitler. He policed that mother like nobody’s business. “Do you think it’s free!?” he’d roar, at conversations over 2.4 minutes in length. “Didn’t you see her all day at school!?” he’d shout in exasperation over your need to spend an hour each evening discussing Beverly Hills 90210 with your best friend. Particularly mean dads would put a lock on the device – we even heard tell of someone whose father installed a payphone. In the hall, of course. Mind, there were eight of them so maybe he felt they had to pay their way. Us? We blithely ignored him and made sure to be out when the bi-monthly bills arrived. The time my younger sister racked up the triple figures, pages-long one from all those calls to the Manchester United premium calls hotline? Well, that people – that is the stuff of family legend.

The Need for More

Now that the cream plastic rotary was installed in the hall and the novelty had worn off, we all began to hanker for an extension upstairs. Or maybe in the kitchen. God wouldn’t that be amazing. A cordless! Could you credit it! But there was one thing I really, really wanted: a burger phone. I dreamed of it, night and day. I knew my life wouldn’t be complete until I had a burger phone. As a ten year old I’d have traded my fancy paper collection for it, that’s how seriously I needed that flip-top fast food-inspired telecommunications device in my life. I never got it, but it possibly explains my deep love now for having to constantly upgrade my mobile to the latest, greatest model. And why I’m broke.

The campaign for the burger-shaped iPhone starts here.

(by Kirstie McDermott)

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13 thoughts on “Getting the Phone: An Ode to Telecom Éireann

  1. Aw memories…I’m nearly sure it was 1987 when we got ours, I remember coming home from Junior infants & phoning my best friend, I learned her number off & still remember it now even though I haven’t see her in years…haven’t a clue of anyone’s numbers now. The phone was a flat rectangular orange thing with black buttons, probably the height of 80’s style. I remember the excitement when we realised you could have MORE THAN ONE phone in the house or a cordless. Many’s the night you’d be yapping away when a sibling would lift the extension & a massive row would ensue over whether you should hang up & let them have a go. I also remember we had an SMA (baby milk) tin by the first phone for coins cos the teenage cousins next door had no phone & so wandered in & out to use ours. I too wanted a burger phone, think the had them in the Home & Away diner! Thank jebus for mobiles though.

  2. redheadwalking says:

    Hah! At least yours HAD A DIAL! When we moved from London to middle-of-nowhere, Co Roscommon in the late 70s and eventually Got The Phone in, I think, 1981 too, there was no dial – just a button that you pressed to connect to the operator and ask for Roosky 107 (grandparents) or Roosky 110 (best friend). We were Roosky 109.

    Terrified I was of using it. Rather than use up any self-confidence I’d mustered on asking my dad for permission to use the thing, I’d jump on the bike and cycle down the road to my best friend. That self-confidence was saved for use in battles over household chores, or piano practice.

    The aforementioned best friend was a middle child with an older brother and sister, with the latter being quite the chatterbox. When direct dial phones eventually came to that corner of deepest rural Ireland a couple of years later and operators (who if your parents knew them, would informally block calls from certain family members) were ousted, the first thing that family did was replace the black plastic brick in the hall with a massive payphone in the kitchen where there was NO escape from the mammy’s eyes and ears.

    Because of the fear I never became a massive phone user, though over the years I think attitudes (specifically my dad’s) changed, because I remember the younger sisters being glued to the thing while I’d sit watching tv, feeling a little jealous of their freedom of communication.

    • kirstie McDermott says:

      wow. a BUTTON! I do remember ringing the operator as a child for ‘trunk’ calls. Which are of course associated in my mind with elephants.

  3. dudley says:

    I still don’t know what the A/B button was for..

  4. Tupp_ed says:

    I once worked in a tourist/craft shop. When the Telecom Eireann ad where a phone morphed into the shape of the country to the tune of The Green Green Grass of Home, the entire country went insane looking for EirePhones.

    The thing was, it had just been done for the ad. There were no IrePhones to be had, anywhere.

    Fortunately one enterprising soul had a batch made up to meet the unexpected demand and made a fortune.

    • kirstie McDermott says:

      OM JEE! I too wanted one of those beautiful, impractical, EirePhones.

      I actually feel a scary collection-hunger coming on. Like a need building inside me now to own all types of old TE phones. More things to dust! Yay!

  5. Ms Avery says:

    We had a payphone at home, after my brother ran up some gigantic bills calling his friends. It was a gigantic pain. Calls were much more expensive than on a normal phone for some reason, and it only took 20p and 50p coins, so the whole family was constantly scrabbling for 20s.

    One day a couple years of this later, my brother was walking past the phone and caught his foot in the cable. It fell on the tiled (hall) floor and broke. My parents pretended unsuccessfully to be annoyed at him and quietly replaced it with a normal phone.

    On another note, I love sheepskin rugs from the butcher’s. You can still get them in FX Buckley’s.

  6. Shauna says:

    Oh I had forgotten about the Man Utd premium rate phone calls – The Utter Shame!

  7. nlgbbbblth says:

    Great post Kirstie. I don’t remember getting the phone in our house – it always seemed to be there. Some phone-less neighbours would regularly drop in to make calls. There was one anti-telephone dude who disagreed with them on principle.

    Those old P&T books – one for Dublin (Cuid a haon) and one for the rest of the country (Cuid a dó).

  8. gracielooks says:

    Relate relate relate. I still want the burger phone, and I want a princess one too. The burger phones go for a song on ebay but I have no landline anymore!

  9. Sarah - OGW says:

    1981?!?! NINETEEN EIGHTY ONE! Are you having a giraffe? We got one in (exactly a week after my best friend) in 1996 I believe. I clearly recall my first phone call, the best friend mustn’t have been home because I called another girl in my class (a tertiary friend at best) instead. Just to say we had a phone. The excitement. I didn’t know we were getting one until it was there.
    My neighbour had a great phone that was clear plastic on the outside and all the inner workings were neon plastic. She had it in her room but she was really, really old (like 17) and spoilt.
    Of course ours was and is in the hall too, but we have a front porch right beside it that you would go in to chat, pulling the door so tight behind you that you were in danger of cutting the line. But be warned – it’s bloody baltic in that porch so you need to prepare and bring 25,0000 layers if you want any length of conversation. Who needs a pay phone when you put your children at risk of hypothermia if they chat too long?

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