Microchips and micro-skirts — first computer arrives in Cork

It's 50 years since the first computers were plugged in at the Echo and Examiner. WENDY GOOD spoke to the two Annes featured in the photographed below about life at 'de paper' in 1971
Microchips and micro-skirts — first computer arrives in Cork

NEW ERA George O'Mahony, company secretary, at Cork Examiner offices, Academy Street turns on the first computer at the Irish Examiner, back in 1971.

IT was July, 1971, tiny mini-skirts were all the rage and a song called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was the earworm hit of the summer.

In the offices of the Echo and Examiner in Academy Street, history was being made, as the company’s first computer — and perhaps the first one in all of Cork — whirred into life.

The first run of the ground-breaking IBM System/3 Computer took place on July 1, 50 years ago.

That day, the directors gathered in the new computer room overlooking Patrick Street to capture the historic moment, as two of the specially trained operators — Anne Berot (nee Coughlan) and Anne Crosbie — set to work punching and verifying the cards that managed advertising, tele-ads, circulation and accounts data.

But no-one had told the ladies to expect a photographer, as Ms Berot recalls: “The Examiner was quite a glamorous place at the time, you never wore the same thing to work twice, and we kept places like Trudy’s Boutique on Academy Street busy. But still, it would have been nice to get some warning!”

“Anne Coughlan looked great as usual,” laughs Ms Crosbie, “but I had been out the night before with my boyfriend and my hair was an absolute state.”

Still, it was a historic day as the Cork Examiner became the first newspaper in Ireland to have such a machine, part of a technology drive spearheaded by directors George and Ted Crosbie.

George had admired the computers at work in newspapers in the UK, while Ted’s engineering background made him determined to be out in front of the technology race.

“The computer took up most of the room, it was massive, and the heat from it!” recalls Ms Berot.

“Anyone interested in joining the new computer room had to undergo an IQ test and then have IBM training as it was quite specialised work. You had to make a programme card for each department, which was then wrapped around the drum inside the machine, and that master card told the computer when to stop and punch it in.”

Anne Crosbie and Ann Coughlan on the first computer in Academy Street, back in 1971.
Anne Crosbie and Ann Coughlan on the first computer in Academy Street, back in 1971.

“We could actually read the holes punched in the cards like another language,” Ms Crosbie adds. “There were four of us girls — myself, Anne, Rosemary Forest and Lillian Fitzpatrick — and we generally worked in pairs.

“Then the cards would go to the two Michaels — Michael O’Mahony and Michael O’Driscoll — who ran them through the machine, which spewed out pages of information.”

Ms Berot fondly remembers those days in Academy Street and Patrick Street: “The Cork Examiner was one of the best places to work in Cork. We both started in 1969 and I only retired in 2015, having been Agency Sales Manager in Dublin for many years.

“It really was like one big happy family, the camaraderie was amazing. There was no departmental segregation, we all had a great time socialising together.

“Le Chateau bar next door had various nicknames, including ‘The Sub Office’ and ‘The Boardroom’ and you never paid to get into Krojak’s nightclub if you worked for the Examiner!” she laughs.

“The three Crosbie directors were known as Mr George, Mr Ted and Mr Donal, which was very progressive at the time; quite American. It was a big deal to call your boss by their first name. They knew every single person there, there must have been 400-500 of us, and they always wanted the best for you.

“I have amazing memories of the Tops of the Town shows, which we competed in for many years,” said Ms Berot.

“Yes,” recalls Ms Crosbie, “I adored the Tops of the Town. Mr Donal and Mr George really encouraged us all to take part. The singing and dancing were brilliant and brought so many different people and departments together.

“Initially, I was too scared to sign up to perform but offered to do costume design in the background — that didn’t last long! We rehearsed for hours and would always go out after, but the competition was fierce.

“We always saw Sunbeam and Carrigaline Pottery as our main rivals, they always put on a great show. Typically, the year they won it was the year I was out on leave having my daughter.”

Ms Crosbie said the office was “great fun — but there were rules too. Even though we wore mini-skirts as high as they could go, with tights, we couldn’t wear sleeveless dresses and had to cover our arms with a cardigan. When I complained about this, I was reminded that the men were always expected to wear a jacket — even though the place was a furnace in summer.”

Both Annes remember being wary of Mr Leland, the Company Secretary, who would send staff members off to Mass on holy days: “We’d be standing outside St Peter & Paul’s, enjoying the break,” says Ms Berot.

“I was in France once and got gastroenteritis and had a doctor’s cert from there to explain my delay in returning to work after my holidays. The next time I walked in, in front of everyone, Mr Leland shouted out: ‘Ms Coughlan, I have a French letter from your doctor here,’ and the whole place erupted because he didn’t realise what he said.

“I was out having a drink with Dick Hogan and George Cronin one night in Le Chateau and that’s where I met my husband, Serge, who was based in Dublin. The Crosbies made a point of letting me do relief cover in the Dublin office as often as possible, so I could see him. I really appreciated that and when we married, they created a job for me there. So, the social life got me a husband!” said Ms Berot.

“Yes, the social scene was buzzing and we made friends for life,” said Ms Crosbie. “The Christmas parties were legendary, we would all pay a few bob into the Staff Association every week and have a huge party in one of the hotels every year, with the directors invited as guests of the staff.

“We all have fabulous memories because it was a wonderful time to work at ‘de paper’.”

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