Category Archives: Collectibles

Lovely Little Yokes: Prototype Tat

There is nothing I can write to build up or soften the blow of actually seeing these images.

I used to work in the souvenir business, I designed a fair amount of the shite you will find in Carroll’s of Dublin. We couldn’t keep up with the demand for Oirish tat.

The below abominations were designed by the great Terry Willers. He would churn out pencil sketches by the dozen on any given theme. These are prototypes for a series of exclusive figurines for the gift shop in Sea World Florida.

These are so creepy and wrong but the best part is they are completely unique, apart from maybe another copy in China these are the only ever produced. And I have them (along with a few other proto-gems)

(by Bob Byrne)


The Last of the Nippers

Late last week, I received a thrilling package from Maxol HQ. The generous sender told me that he had “literally…raided the safe” for said package’s contents. And oh, what glories were contained therein. So glorious that I now feel kind of bad for previously referring to the Nipper-enslaving Maxol executives of the 1980s as “cigar-chomping, fat cat, petroleum-bastards”.

Anyway, see for yourselves (click to embiggen).

A few things worth noting…

1) My (on loan) nipper came cocooned in “his” own vintage plastic bag (which describes him, matter-of-factly, as a “COLOURFUL HANDPUPPET WITH SOUNDS”). Had he been hibernating in there since 1985? Waiting for (and dreaming of) a liberation that never came? The nipper completists among you may wish to know that the distributor of these colourful-handpuppets-with-sounds was “HIRA (Ireland) Ltd” (whoever/whatever that is/was).

2) The tag on his arse describes him as a “Mattey Product”. Can anyone shed any light on who/what Mattey was/were?

3) If you choke a nipper the results are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.

4) The tiny (and very fragile) watches came in yellow and pink (with subtle differences in design on each face). Makers were “OMAC UK”.

5) On the “FREE A NIPPER!” stickers Brendan Grace looks like a cross between Peter Sutcliffe and Giant Haystacks…in a schoolboy costume. This may well be the most terrifying look ever cultivated by anyone.

I could go on, but think it best to let the creature itself self-describe. Over to you, my little pink friend.

(by fústar)

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Lovely Little Yokes: #1 – Good Luck From Ireland

They…are all around us. Or, at least, they used to be till somebody (perfectly understandably) stuffed them into a plastic bag (because they were sick of the sight of them) and shipped them off to the nearest Enable Ireland charity shop (or wherever). Ceramic gewgaws. Plastic tchotchkes. Objects that someone once loved enough to say, “You know, Auntie Mary might like that”.

The purpose of our new series – “Lovely Little Yokes” – is to catalogue and “celebrate” these forgotten and abandoned trinkets. Putting them proudly on display. Giving them a chance to shine again (however briefly). Or, as is more likely, just reminding everyone why nobody wanted them in the first place.

First up, this little beauty. Purchased for 50c in Limerick Animal Welfare, Roches St, Limerick (obviously).

OK, so it’s a leprechaun/gnome…pointing at a pig’s hole. Leprechaun/gnome is enthusiastically smiling, as if to say, “How can you not love this?”.

And this is no ordinary pig. It’s the cutest, most coquettish-looking pig I’ve ever seen (ceramic or otherwise). The garland of shamrocks suggests a pig in the process of attending a local festival at which it will celebrate its Irishness. It seems to be enjoying this experience considerably more than I would be in similar circumstances.

Above is view from rear (and of rear).

For those who can’t make out the text, it’s “AN TSEAPAIN TIR A DHEANTA”. Which is basically just telling you that this little piece of hibern-o-crap was made in Japan. I can only assume that the reason for the text being in Irish is to seduce tourist souvenir-hunters into assuming it means something utterly lovely and lyrically-Gaelic and ancient. It very much doesn’t. But, c’mon. A pig that charming? You’d forgive him any deception.

(by fústar)

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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.


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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Anyone Buyin’ or Sellin’?: A Fraction of My Life in Gig Tickets

Twenty years ago tomorrow, on a brisk but sunny May 2nd, I was allowed to get out of school early. My mission, approved only after some abject begging, was to hang around outside the SFX (St. Francis Xavier Hall) on Dublin’s Northside, in a bid to meet Nick Cave. It was his first Irish gig, and he was, and still remains, one of my musical heroes. When Nick and the band arrived, around 5pm, it was clear he’d already had a nip or two of sherry, but he was kind, and even wrote a note to an Irish pal who was an even bigger Nick fan than me. She was – in a bittersweet act of geographical switcheroo – in Australia, while Nick was here. My boyfriend offered to take a photo of us, and I almost keeled over when Cave put his arm around me. Suddenly, I realised that I couldn’t show the prized pic to my parents. At least not until I guillotined a bit off the end and defaced the photo with a dot of black marker, to obscure the cigarette I was holding in my teenage hand.

It was was the first of many Nick Cave gigs. I’ve seen him play in a New York tiered venue, lecture on the history of the love letter in a theatre, got pulled out of the front row of a London gig after being crushed (and was more worried that I had inadvertently flashed the nearby TV cameras in the process) and wow a tiny tent full of people in a field in Cork, duetting with Will Oldham on The Palace Brother’s New Partner – one of the most favourite gig memories of all time. I know that Nick signed my Dublin ticket, but to this day, it remains an elusive rectangular phantom. Instead, there is this one, from the same year, just months later.

I discovered it in a small box of keepsakes during a recent rummage for some grown-up form, or a child’s birth cert. Alongside old USIT cards and long-forgotten boys’ phone numbers and penpal addresses, was an assortment of gig tickets, starting with my first “big gig” – REM’s Green Tour in 1989. The only reason my parents allowed me to go was because my older brother was going. My younger brother complained that he wanted to tag along too. Then my dad started to believe the hype and got himself a ticket. 4/5ths of the Gleesons attended, but I – clad in my Wonder Stuff t-shirt, thinking I was the bee’s knees – was the one my dad kept offering to buy minerals for. Mortification then, but something I joked about with him when we went to see Paul Simon together last year. That first gig was a spectacular show, with REM almost topped by their support act, The Go-Betweens.

What strikes me now is that the chronology of these forgotten tickets is interesting, as much for what remains as for the absences. There are no tickets beyond 1994, the year before I moved out of home. I went to countless more gigs around that time, but these are the stubs that have survived. They are their own stories. When I moved out, my gig-going increased, due to living in town, but where are all those hundreds of reminders? There are so many circular elements and links too. Last December, in the corridor of a Dingle hotel, I chatted to Edwyn Collins, who came to Dublin a year after the huge success of his single, A Girl Like You.

On that same December night outside a Dingle bar, I stood in sleety rain beneath the stars. Huddled under an eave, Jason Pierce and I wracked our brains, collectively trying to remember the exact date I’d first seen his band Spiritualized. I knew the year, he guessed the month.

That January weekend in 1993 was the weekend Dublin’s Tivoli first opened as a gig venue (I went to see Clint Mansell’s Pop Will Eat Itself the following night), and there are a glut of 1993 stubs from the same venue. In March, Suede – high on the success of their first few singles The Drowners and Metal Mickey, arrived in Dublin. The gig sold out weeks in advance and had to be stopped several times due to chronic crowd crushes.

Two months later, as sweat dripped off the ceiling, there was similar hysteria when The Sundays played. Their singer Harriet, a bird-like waif possessed of a gorgeous voice reduced grown men all around me to either fainting (honestly) or chanting her name.

Looking at the Tivoli tickets, with their metallic trim, they look positively futuristic, when compared to tickets of old:

But at least the Morrissey ticket is printed, and stands a better chance of not being counterfeited, unlike this one for a Henry Rollins’ that someone scribbled on the front as if it were a raffle ticket. The cheap, unremarkable stub gives no clue to the night itself.  Rollins had the audience guffawing along until the end, until he literally punched us collectively in the gut by telling the story of his best friend Joe, who had been shot and killed right beside him during a mugging, just ten weeks earlier.

Seeing Rollins speak – hurling thoughts and ideas and concepts like hammers – is affecting, but his musical performances rank as hugely intense experiences. The night after this spoken word, he signed albums in Comet Records (he wrote ‘Be nice’ on my copy of The End of Silence, in reference to something Sinéad O’Connor had just done) and supported the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. My sole reason for buying a ticket, was to see Rollins, and he blew the headline act off the stage. Years later, my husband would tell me that he was at this gig for the same reason as me.

Seeing bands so close together often gave a good idea of how tight they were as performers, but how much their Irish fanbase increased in a relatively short period of time. In 1991, Sonic Youth played McGonagles, with not a ticket to be had in advance. Their performance was an assault. Frantic, blistering and one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

It was no surprise when, less than a year later they returned to play Dun Laoghaire’s long-closed Top Hat venue, with a little-known band called Nirvana as support. Myself and my friend Colm got there early to see them, having worn out our US-bought copies of Bleach directly from their label Sub Pop. The gig was a year before the release of Nevermind, and most of the audience didn’t know who the soon-to-massive trio were.

Similarly, The Beastie Boys sweated up a storm at the Tivoli (and chatted to fans outside on Francis Street afterwards) only to play again (and sell out) eight months later in the big main hall of the RDS.

There are the bands who sign your tickets – and Mark Eitzel, j’accuse! Just last week, I heard a Nick Drake song on the radio and realised how much Eitzel & co. had, er, borrowed from it for American Music Club’s heart-breaker classic, Will You Find Me?

There are stubs from eccentric singers who insisted that they would “only play castles” on their current tour. Cue a hasty compromise by the promoter in booking Julian Cope to play Royal Hospital Kilmainham. And not a marquee or a Forbidden Fruit-style set-up, but an *actual* room inside. I remember royal blue deep pile carpets and paintings of white-wigged 18th century gents on horses adorning the walls.

Or singers who are eccentric, but draw the line at playing castles (yes you, Mark E. Smith) and you bump into them in the back laneway of the venue as you’re leaving the gig, wondering how they managed to get off the stage so quickly.

Or the first time at a gig that you notice that everyone else around you is on drugs and thinking that maybe they’re having a better time than you.

And the one where being up the front in the moshpit seemed almost as bad an idea as going to see Fugazi in the tiny cave that was McGonagles, packed to the rafters and ON CRUTCHES.

And being reminded that if some bands are better than others when it comes to talking politics – especially when they pass microphones into the crowd to get the views of their audience (which often end up on their albums).

I can’t remember the last time I held on to a gig ticket. In a post-Internet world, perhaps we don’t have the same regard for objects that we used to.  We buy music that we never physically hold in our hands and have regular conversations online with people we’ve never been in the same room as. There’s a tactility these tickets. They’re right here. And leafing through this box, I realised that’s why I kept them. The gigs themselves were brilliant, formative, part of growing up, but looking at the stubs, small details of each night drift back me: how I snagged a huge hole in my fishnets at Sonic Youth in McGonagles; getting the number 75 bus to Dun Laoghaire’s Top Hat; of being smitten by a Canadian boy I met at The Beastie Boys or nearly knocking over that blue-haired MTV presenter and her camera crew as I ran from Consolidated and into the night for the last tube. All memories are scraps and fragments, but they can leave an indelible mark – even on four or five square inches of paper with a holographic security seal.

(by Sinéad Gleeson)

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Fancy Paper: A Survivor’s Memoir…

Oh, you hateful, lily-scented bastards...

Something dark and subversive was going on in the suburbs of Limerick in the 1980’s. It was taking over the lives of young vulnerable girls who had no idea of the edge of the dark precipice on which they stood. It began as all habits and addictions do, on a small scale, just experimenting; alone, with friends, in their bedrooms and eventually spilling out onto the streets. In time it made its way to that most precious of all childhood havens – the school-yard. If you were transported back in time to a typical Eighties Irish school-yard, in the heady days of Fancy Paper swapping, you could be forgiven for thinking you had inadvertently stumbled onto the set of The Wire. Little cliques of wild-eyed girls huddled in corners bartering their wares and negotiating prices, debating whether they were getting their money’s worth for their product. The phenomenon? Fancy Paper…and I was involved up to my neck in it. This is my addiction story, triggered by Aoife Barry’s reminiscing of pre-internet Irish childhoods here. I write this post not to inspire sympathy for my plight, but to raise awareness in future generations. Wake up and smell the rose-scented stationery, people. If Fancy Paper had a chance, it would consume you and everyone you love.

Like most addictions, mine was a gradual one. My strongest memory of being addicted to stationery is still The Summer of the Pencil Case. Having come back from a foreign holiday (Santa Ponsa was the venue of choice circa 1987) just before the start of the school year, and my birthday being the first week in September, my parents had bought some of my mini presents out there just for a little something different. I don’t even remember what my main present was that year, but I still remember the pink art deco wonderland box of miracles that was a brand new pencil case staring back at me. Built in compartments housing an eraser and a pencil sharpener that popped out at the simple touch of a button, along with a false bottom under where the pencils were stored so you could house little notes declaring ‘I Heart Michael Jackson’ and various other imperative factoids. It was the Swiss Army Knife of school stationery. I imagined that some genius like Q had a wife that left the house every morning at the same time as him; and while he went into MI6 to make weapons for James Bond, she went to work designing multi-compartment stationery for the discerning girly school nerd. That little drawer for paper became the most exciting little mini universe for me that school year; for it was there that I first began to store my fledgling Fancy Paper collection.

Take this beautiful horror from mine eyes...

Everywhere you looked in newsagents and bookshops, there seemed to be a magical array of Fancy Paper delights of all shapes and sizes. Their value was arbitrary, depending on your neck of the woods and personal taste. The most common were those small printed paper pads with a wonderful design or pattern on the front which then revealed the same pattern in watermark form on each sheet underneath. You wanted to get a good selection of them under your belt to really start trading. Next up from those were papers of the same size and style, but scented. Lightly fragranced notepapers with the watermark were highly sought after, mostly because your entire fancy paper collection would undoubtedly gain some form of olfactory benefit from having a few odd rose or lily-scented sheets scattered amongst the regular ones. The bartering process was a long arduous one. I learned a lot about supply and demand back then. One girl had the most awesome Japanese-style scented pad, brought back as a present from her Dad while on a business trip. For an entire week this girl called all the shots. She was charging upwards of four to five sheets for a single one of hers – and like fools, we paid it. But it was worth it just to have one of those precious leaves with the geisha girl design and powdery fake Jasmine scent infiltrating our collection.

The storage of your assets was also a serious issue. Most of us graduated from giant birthday card envelopes to shoe boxes, which were nigh on impossible to carry on our underground dealings in school. We would need to recall the envelope as a form of travel luggage if we wanted to get any business at all done during Big Lunch. Because of the volume and weight restriction, you had to choose what went into the envelope carefully. The photographic memory of those involved in the swapping and dealing of Fancy Paper was terrifying. Wanting to swap for a sheet you had your eye on, but being told it would be considered only if you brought in that birthday invitation notepaper that was in the shape of a vinyl record with the matching envelope that you hadn’t shown anyone in five months was a sharp wake-up call that this could get very messy very fast.

This is all too much temptation. I have to go to Eason's now. Don't try and stop me.

Sleep was lost, as were friends and colleagues in the field of battle. The Parental Task Force was drafted in to quell the rising violence and so-called ‘bad’ paper that saturated the market; soon you weren’t sure whether the quality and standard of the paper you were swapping was top notch any more. The buzz just wasn’t the same. People were starting to care less about quality product in the face of ever-increasing demand. There was nearly a Fancy Paper civil war in our school one day when a girl was caught spraying perfume onto previously unscented paper to raise its value on the open market. Caused ructions. Plus the paper was stained something terrible after it. What an eejit. She broke the cardinal rule…try scented talc powder first (so I heard).

It’s been over twenty years, and I still get a hankering to start ‘collecting’ once again. But I need to start thinking of the consequences. Soon I may choose to marry, have a family. Nobody needs to be brought into this seedy world without a choice. Being a primary teacher, some would say I have channelled my love of stationery into a career that can benefit society and feed my habit in some roundabout way, and they would be right. But until school inspectors start accepting lesson plans and monthly schemes on 10th Birthday invitation paper in the shape of a vinyl record with a matching envelope, my habit will have to remain firmly printed on my memory – with a Chinese-style pattern watermark and, of course, a light powdery freesia scent.

(by JayRow)

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Donegal, Where They Make Their Own

Donegal was a county I knew well as a young lad, on account of my mother being from there and most years I’d spend several weeks at my granny’s in Falcarragh, three to four of those in the summer. It always struck me as a county oddly different from what I knew of the rest of Ireland — it was effectively the next county to the north of Sligo but the distance to my granny’s was about as far as it was to Dublin; people there supported Celtic rather than English football teams (indeed, north Donegal was unusual in being a part of rural Ireland where the locals cared far more passionately for soccer than GAA). A popular newspaper was the Scottish Sunday Post, a “good, clean tabloid” as my father used to call it,  which was probably unavailable anywhere else in the 26 counties. Despite being the second biggest county on the island, it had no railways — the various lines that served it had all closed by 1957.

It was only later when I crossed the border for the first time that I realised this difference was because Donegal was isolated. It was culturally closer to Northern Ireland — both its Nationalist and Unionist elements — than to the ‘south’ and unlike Monaghan and Cavan, most of the county bordered none of the other three provinces. The partition of Ireland in 1920 had cut Donegal off from its neighbours  like a schoolboy who has been kept back a year misses his friends. Donegal was, in a way, the Alaska of the Free State. Most Donegal people, in my childhood at least, rarely thought of the border as anything other than a man-made imposition, viewing it much as the Comanche think of the US-Mexico frontier that cuts through their ancestral lands. And though the overwhelming majority of Tyrconnell folk were enthusiastic for the young republic, Dublin was awfully far away.

I’m not sure if partition had anything to do with a strange industrial subculture that existed in Donegal but there sure was a lot of shit in the shops in Donegal you couldn’t easily get ‘down south’. It probably all started with the Crolly Doll. Made in the village of Crolly since 1939, the dolls were a sort of Hibernian proto-Cabbage Patch Kid, except they had that icy, glazed, all-seeing demeanour of traditional marionettes. They were often clothed in variants of the peasant dress that was rapidly dying out at the time. In a foreshadowing of globalisation, cheaper competition from East Asia killed off the Crolly Doll in the late 1970s and the factory closed but not before my auntie Bríd worked there for a while — something, which, you will understand, represented untold glamour for us as children. A smaller, more ’boutique’ factory was resurrected in the early 90s, and started making more specialised dolls, including ones with porcelain heads (which surely upped the creepy quotient no end), but it appears to have run aground once again.

Image from Wikipedia

Admittedly, the Crolly Doll was available outside of Donegal, and quite famous internationally it was too, if specialist internet doll forums are anything to go by. The fact though that the doll emanated from what was little more than a hamlet in a far-flung corner of the county was strange enough. And it was far from the only star of light industry Donegal could boast. One of the landmarks we always passed on our journeys north was the Oatfield’s factory in Letterkenny, a building that looked strangely more like a convent school than a confectionery wonderland and the company’s motto – ‘the sweet’s that are pure’ – is rather telling. Oatfield’s made old-school sweets, which only came in those larger, more expensive bags that usually hung behind the counter in a sweet shop, so eating them was synonymous with visiting grown-up relatives. The list of Oatfield’s products reads like a demented Séamus Heaney poem: Butter Mints, Sherbet Fruit, Orange Chocolate, Glucose Barley, Eskimo Mints, Colleen Irish assortment. But the crowning achievement was the flagship sweet — the Emerald.

John Byrne, of this parish, has written eloquently of Oatfield’s but I think he does the Emerald an injustice. This coconut caramel with a casing of dark chocolate so thin it might have been painted on, was a toffee of the perfect chewability for my young jaws. It was not fudgey enough to deprive you of your money’s worth nor was it too resilient so as to wedge your teeth together in a masticatory morass. It even had classic packaging (which has now, alas, given way to generic computer-generated design): a portrait of an old biddy encased in a sepia oval, who, uniquely, looked very like the person likely to be holding the bag out to you, urging you to “take two, they’re small.” I have met Eastern Europeans who grew up under communism, who speak fondly of the low-rent sweets of their childhood, which were later bought up by Danone or Nestlé and cast aside as embarrassing relics of the planned economy. Thankfully the Emerald has met no such fate and is still with us — it’s a sweet that symbolised a brave new nation, a sweet that held its own. There was even Arabic writing on the packet, for God’s sake — it was that well regarded!

Another post-lunch staple of those summer holidays was McDaid’s Football Special, made in Ramelton in east Donegal. No doubt the fortuitous result, like Worcestershire Sauce or penicillin, of some crazy stab in the dark at something else entirely, Football Special tasted like no other soft drink. It made Irn Bru seem as recherché as buttermilk; it turned your mouth pink without tasting like gentian violet. It also had football in its name, which made it the best drink ever. I imagined it was the stuff that victorious football teams drank from the cup but later when I started appearing on such teams myself I was shocked to learn there was no McDaid’s Football Special outside Donegal. We had to make do with red lemonade, which was tantamount to imposing Babycham on Formula 1 champions. Last year, Football Special was launched on the unsuspecting  masses south of Bundoran as a sort of Irish Pabst Blue Ribbon in the hope of becoming a hipster favourite. Well, I was drinking it long before any of the rest of them.

Over in Gweedore, they made crisps. This was Sam Spudz, a country cousin to Tayto and King but which nonetheless had a grittier, urban image, with its logo pilfered off Dick Tracy, a ‘z’ where a more pedestrian brand would have an ‘s’, and its avowed specialisation in “thicker crinkled crisps”, which was heralded in gumshoe-steeped radio ads. Sam Spudz probably didn’t invent the crinkled crisp but it was certainly the first to market it in Ireland, long before Hunky Dory’s (whose owner Largo Foods later swallowed up both it and Tayto) or McCoy’s. It also did a line in corn snacks that looked and tasted irredeemably cheap, and, if memory serves me right, outdid the thicker crinkled crisp in popularity in the lower 25. There may have been several but the only ones I can recall are Onion Rings and Burger Bites, each of which bore the same resemblance to their models as Blackpool Tower does to Gustave Eiffel’s effort. In all, the collective output of Oatfield’s, McDaid’s and Sam Spudz means Donegal was probably responsible for me cultivating a fearsome paunch long before I had figured out how to get served in pubs.

I’m still not sure why local industry thrived in Donegal throughout a century that was mostly dismal in Ireland from an economic point of view. You could say it was a pop-culture realisation of de Valera’s dreams of Irish self-sufficiency.  Other parts of the country had their star local brands but few had as high a concentration as Donegal. Even in adulthood I kept discovering them. When I moved to Paris ten years ago, I worked in a bar, whose cranberry juice, in those days before Ocean Spray became available in France, was made by Mulrine’s in Ballybofey – “the juice production experts”, as their website says. One of the owners of the bar was from Gweedore, of course…

(by Oliver Farry)

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Vive la Liberté!

Reader Susan Cullen sends us this slightly moth-eaten, but still surviving (goddammit), nipper.

Carrot devoured years ago, alas. Speaking of which, those mangy Velcro-covered paws are giving me the shivers and the fear. Now have visions of my own (abandoned) nipper dragging himself across the floor, into the bed, and then, um, causing me minor skin irritation with some frantic paw-rubbing.

Any others? Send ’em on.

(by fústar)


Only Gorgeous: Maxol, Bottler, and the Liberation of the Nippers

Ireland, in 1985, was, of course, a giddy and utopian place. Where endless streams of laughter flowed through a sun-dappled wonderland of enchantment. The movings at Ballinspittle? Oooh! The foundings of the Progressive Democrats? Yay! But Marian apparitions and super-sexy Desmond O’Malley were not the only things setting young hearts racing.

Forget Mandela. Forget “The Birmingham Six”. Half a decade earlier, beings of a very different order were crying out for justice and liberation. Small and boggle-eyed beings. Fluffy and cheap-looking beings. Nippers.

Cruelly enslaved by their cigar-chomping, fat cat, petroleum-bastard masters their plaintive squeaks for release captivated a nation. Here’s their first appearance:

There was something so frazzled and anxious and sad about the nippers (not to mention Brendan Grace). They were simultaneously desirable collectible objects, and tragic entities who needed us to lead them out of bondage. And we did. In our thousands. Here’s Tom Noonan, Chief Executive of The Maxol Group (Boo!):

The promotional campaign was launched in late 1985 and was timed to take advantage of the build up to Christmas in that year. The advertisements were an instant success. The campaign unashamedly targeted the children of motorists, who subsequently begged, bothered and cajoled their parents into collecting the nipper stamps at Maxol stations. Approximately 400,000 nippers were freed by the end of the campaign and a star was born.

Nippers, like many living things denied their dignity and freedom, took refuge in stimulants. In their case, 7-UP.

Note the loose use of the term “treasure” there. Rugs, cutlery, photo albums. Even for mid-80s Ireland this was a bit on the shit-biscuits side. Having said that, there are some gems that I would happily beat a nipper to death for.

Digital nipper watches.

Analogue nipper t-shirts.

While Brendan Grace is still a findable object (if you’re so inclined), these wonders have long since disappeared into a promotional ephemera black hole. Just to clarify, Brendan Grace can still be viewed, touched (probably) and held (ooer), but nipper watches and t-shirts now exist only as glorious memories…and pixellated JPEGs. Life sucks balls.

And what of the nippers themselves? As Maxol’s ad campaign developed, an extraterrestrial point of origin was hinted at.

Hang on. So…they were coming to Earth, in hijacked NASA Space Shuttles, and willingly allowing Maxol (and their stooge, Bottler) to hold them captive? Then carrying placards begging us to release them from this “torment”? I liberated a nipper. Most of my friends liberated nippers. We were passionate about the cause. On mature reflection, I think we were had (our best instincts cynically exploited). If I still had my nipper I’d punch it hard in its manipulative little leporine face.

We’re left with questions. Does anyone still have a nipper? Does anyone have one of those impossibly groovy nipper T-shirts (or, even, a comfy Maxol rug)? Did anyone ever go to see the (genuinely not made up) “Bottler in Nipperland” panto? What ever became of almost half a million freed nippers? Where did they go?

(by fústar)

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