HISTORY books may locate it to California, but the Summer of Love, a cultural movement that took place in 1967, spread its wings all the way to Cork.
Its epicentre was San Francisco, where more than 100,000 people, most of them teenagers, converged on the Haight-Ashbury district that glorious summer 53 years ago.
They came from across America and wore brightly-patterned flowing garments, put flowers in their hair, and chanted of peace and happiness.
The world looked on in shock, and the civic authorities of San Francisco struggled to cope with the enormous numbers expecting somehow to find free food, free lodging, welcoming faces and friendly acceptance.
The legendary songs were heard everywhere: Let’s Go to San Francisco; If You’re Going to San Francisco; We’re The Flower People, California Dreamin’…
Cork really couldn’t have been more different to sunlit California. We were still only starting to pull out of the dreary 1950s, the postwar years.
With the summer of ’67, though, somehow something did at last penetrate the shadows — the slouched figures, the headscarves and practical shopping bags, the endless drizzle — and blossomed into our own Summer of Love.
New, colourful fabrics began to appear in Roches Stores and Cassidy’s. Inexpensive pink fob watches were spotted in Bolger’s, ideal for young men to wear with pink satin ruffled shirts, run up hastily by their girlfriends from what had previously been considered cheap lining material. The word ‘hippy’ entered the general vocabulary. And the mini skirt began to be seen!
Elderly housewives, of course, were shocked as girls tripped lightly down Oliver Plunkett Street or across Daunt’s Square in little more than a scanty pelmet. How on earth did they manage their stockings? (Believe it or not, clear tights didn’t arrive until later — the only kind available were dancers’ thick black ones. No matter. Do without!)
It was a time of liberation from the imprisoning control of ‘approved feminine apparel’, and Cork’s young women took full advantage of the new atmosphere. Besides which, you only needed half a yard, plus a zip, to whip one up for the evening!
This writer well remembers being turned away from a dance (was it at the CCYMS?) because her skirt was too short. I nipped round the corner, borrowed a coat, and returned, discreetly covered, to be passed through without comment.
Hugh Coveney — father of the present Tanaiste — was a great man for seeing possibilities, and used hippiedom to full advantage in planning a Crazy Ball Game charity match at Flower Lodge that summer. First came a full scale Flower Power procession down Patrick Street and on to Patrick’s Bridge one fine morning, led by enthusiastic students strewing petals and blossoms as they marched.
The intention was to hold a hippy wedding on the bridge, but a solemn Garda put a stop to that, saying it was ‘disrespectful’. Which it probably was.
Next evening came the big charity match though the game was overshadowed by several interventions. Two bikini-clad young maidens, said to have been kidnapped from Crosshaven (such was the limit of our holiday dreams in those pre-Lanzarote days) were pursued hotly round the field by the entire football team, who gasped, shouted, made determined tackles, fell over their feet and that of their comrades, and ended up in a flailing heap as the girls finally reached the safety of the dressing rooms.
Then James Bond drove right on to the pitch in a sports car, with Pussy Galore reclining gracefully on the bonnet, clad in leather trousers. Finally, Mao Tse Tung arrived by helicopter to put his approval on the evening. A great time was had by all. (I can’t recollect who won, but nobody cared.)
We didn’t really understand what was going on in San Francisco, or the politics that spawned it, but boy did we revel in the newly-discovered freedom and bright new delights that were appearing in our shops at last, after decades of old-fashioned garments.
Those who headed to London for the summer to work in factories brought back news of even more delights there, and even spared some of their hard-earned cash to dress in the latest from Carnaby Street or King’s Road, Biba or I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet.
One boyfriend lashed out an entire week’s wages on a superb fringed buckskin jacket, the kind Robert Redford or Paul Newman might wear. And, being a Cork boy and an innocent desirous of making a big splash on his return (didn’t they all?), he swaggered off the Innisfallen clad in the same splendid jacket, to be collared by a friendly Customs officer. He claimed it had been bought in Cork (fat chance), but in the end had to admit its London provenance and pay the hefty duty requested. Ah well, you live and learn.
The Summer of Love in San Francisco faded into autumn and then winter. Escapees from everyday boredom in hick towns drifted back to marry the boy or girl next door, take up jobs in the same company as their father and grandfather, bright memories tucked determinedly away.
Others stayed on, wandering further down the California coast to set up shacks on a beach and make some kind of living.
Here in Cork, we took up the busy threads of everyday life once more, but with a difference.
We had seen the light, the colour, the music, we had danced and sung and shouted of freedom and love.
Life would never be quite the same again.