The end of an era? Bye Bye Now

By Lisa Marie Griffith

In the collected essays Love of the World John McGahern tells a story about how the phone box was such a powerful local communication tool that the site of the phone box in his local village, Fenagh, was indicative of the political party in power. The site of the phone box would change variously from outside a pub on one side of the road (to where the Fianna Gael supporters drank) and to the other (where Fianna Fail drank) depending on exactly who was in power. The story is a nice reminder of the importance of the phone box in twentieth century Ireland as a major communication point, a significance that it is all too easy to remember when everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket.

Aideen O’Sullivan and Ross Whitaker, the makers of an Irish short Bye Bye Now, set out in 2009 to capture and record the significance of the phone box in Irish life, a timely idea as phone boxes are de-commissioned and disappearing from our streets quickly! Phone boxes are a bit of a mystery to our younger generation and I have caught my niece looking at them in wonder (apparently it was the question from one of their daughters ‘why would people use a phone box?’ that prompted them to make the short). If only the writers of Dr. Who could have anticipated that the phone box would become an alien image on our streets and the Tardis was not a good cover!

Bye Bye Now features a number of Irish people re-counting their experience of the phone box and how it touched or shaped their lives. One couple talk about trying to forge a relationship over a long distance before they got married and how the phone box in the village was pivotal to it. The wife speaks of hanging around outside the phone box waiting for her future husband to ring. After getting fed up with phone conversations he proposed over the phone. Another man discusses having to help rescue two women who got stuck in the phone box as they sheltered from a storm. There are even a group of activists who helped to save their 1960s phone box from destruction ten years ago.

The end of an era? After each interviewee tells their ‘phone box’ story they are asked when the last time they actually used the phone box. Not surprisingly the answers vary between three years and ten years. Indeed the most used phone box is by a school girl who uses it to shelter from the rain while she waits for the school bus. The era of the phone box has been gone for a while and these people are looking back and reminiscing simply because Eircom have reminded them of the phone box’s existence by taking them down.

Bye Bye Now is a much needed tribute to the phone box and a mode of communication which should not be forgotten. While focusing on the importance of the phone box to rural communities in particular, it features beautiful footage of the Irish countryside. As a short the scope is obviously limited but perhaps it would have been nice to hear about some phone boxes in housing estates or more urban areas. The Tom Dunne Show discussed public telephones and phones in general and listeners shared their stories of growing up with limited access to the phone as a medium which personally I found really interesting and complimented the stories which emerged from this short.

Bye Bye Now has won a number of awards including an audience award at the Silverdocs festival (in Maryland) and at the Cork Film Festival and is a nice reminder of how the digital age has changed even our streetscape!

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5 Responses to “The end of an era? Bye Bye Now”

  1. Frank Says:

    This story takes me back 20 years to a phone call I made from a Dublin city phonebox. Less than a minute after I left the phonebox I remembered that I had left my wallet there. Needless to say, it was gone and with it about £50 together with all my ID cards. Even worse, it was a Friday evening so I had to visit my aunt to borrow money to get home to Limerick that weekend. A few years later I was in college in Galway and as I often did I phoned home one afternoon. After a few minutes someone angrily opened the door and told me that if I didn’t get off the phone he would wrench it out of my hand. Understandably shaken and annoyed, I waited a few minutes in the phonebox explaining what had occurred to my parents and trying to behave as calmly as possible I exited the phonebox without looking at the extremely impatient person. What was surprising about this was the fact that there were several phoneboxes in close proximity. Recalling this incident reminds me of the long time I would often wait in a queue at a phonebox but clearly some people couldn’t be bothered adhering to this basic form of etiquette.

  2. patrick maume Says:

    The TARDIS in Dr Who is not based on an ordinary phone box- these were special phone boxes which existed when the series began in the early 60s which were only connected to the local police station and were supposed to cater for people who wanted to phone the police in a hurry.
    Another indication of changing times – I remember watching THE PARALLAX VIEW (a thriller from the Watergate era, with Warren beatty as a journalist pursuing a corporation which carries out political assassinations). At one point Beatty sees one of the villains behaving suspiciously near a plane in an airport. What does Beatty do? He goes into the terminal and walks straight onto the plane, and after it has taken off a stewardess comes round and collects the fares from those passengers who have not already bought tickets! (Admittedly, this is a domestic US flight, not international, but it’s still really startling).

  3. Póló Says:

    And don’t forget phone tapping (in the original/earlier sense) which increased the versatility of the old phone box for the penniless:

  4. Camilla Says:

    I had the opportunity to watch it at the Irish Film Festa in Rome, last 28th of November, and I loved it. Irish people, humour, history and culture are something interesting and inspiring (I fell in love with Ireland 5 years ago during a journey by bus, I’ve also tried to learing some gaelic in a pub. how much laughing!) and this blog is really amazing, many compliments!

  5. helloworld Says:

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    afterward he must be pay a visit this web site and be up to date every day.

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