By Pat McLean

I was sixteen and the swinging ’60s had taken England by storm. The music was trail blazing and the clothes were ‘way out man’. Long hair and sideburns were the order of the day; ears were definitely not in vogue.

Unfortunately for me the closest I ever got to the swinging ’60s was through the screen of a 14 inch black and white TV in the living room. Every Thursday night at 7.30pm my siblings and I would huddle around it, eyes glued to the screen waiting in anticipation for the familiar theme tune of ‘Top of the Pops’.

We looked on in envy as the dancers cavorted across the screen in the latest psychedelic gear straight from Carnaby street.

Ireland back then was ruled with an iron fist by church and state but not everyone bought into this conservative ideology. I remember a priest delivering a sermon, lecturing us about the dangers and evilness of listening to the Beatles music. Little did he know then that he was ridiculing the songs that are now regarded as the greatest the world has ever known.

There were several clothes shops in Ballybofey at that time, all catering for adults and children, but nothing to suit a ‘wannabe groovy teenager’. If I wanted to buy a decent pair of ‘Wranglers’ or a flower-power shirt I would have to thumb a lift across the border to Strabane and then face the daunting task of smuggling them past the custom officers and run the risk of having them confiscated.

Prior to 1973 when Britain joined the EU the border crossings were manned by custom officers from both sides, but people who lived close to the border had smuggling down to a fine art.

I once heard about a man who cycled across the border twice a week. The custom officers suspected that he was up to something but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Years later while having a conversation over a pint with the elusive cyclist the same officer enquired: “So, tell us this, we often wondered what you were up to but we could never figure it out, so what were you at …What were you smuggling?”

He took a long drag on his Sweet Afton cigarette and replied, “Bicycles!” with a smirk.
Now there was an alternative in Ballybofey. Mickey Cannon’s second hand clothes shop in Flea Lane. Mickey headed over to England and Scotland several times a year and came back with a van load of all kinds of regalia. So every now and then I would pay it a visit.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own