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When Steve Jobs and Apple first came to Ireland

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Steve Jobs opened plant in Cork in 1980
December 23, 1980 and thousands of Irish people were facing the prospect of no electricity on Christmas Day. The basics of modern life - electricity, telephones, indoor plumbing - were still relatively new in Ireland then. Anyone describing the modern, telecommunications-dominated world of today would have sounded like a science-fiction writer, not a businessman about to open a new factory. Yet, Steve Jobs was in Ireland talking about the future.

My wife and I were going through boxes of my father-in-law's papers and pictures over the weekend. We found a treasure trove of genealogical tidbits such as dates of birth, marriage certificates, which provide lost maiden names, etc.

There were also a few old newspaper cuttings, which are always interesting. Airplane, The Blues Brothers, Brubaker and The Shining were among the movies playing that Christmas in Dublin.

There were a couple of news items that caught my eye.

Christmas, of course, was a focal point. An industrial dispute at the national electricity company threatened to leave many people in the west of Ireland with no electricity for Christmas. I don't know how that turned out. There was an article about a man spotted stealing a piece of buttered bread from the sparrows and feeding it to the ducks. They were simpler times.

There was a short item on a speech by Pope John Paul II, who was warning of the dangers that arise when political blocs "seek to assert their rights over small nations." Although he was alluding to his native Poland, Ireland in 2012 is being squeezed very hard by the political bloc that currently controls the European Union.

There was, however, one article that really stood out, that leaped off the page. An American company was opening a new factory in Cork and the the head of that company was saying some radical things. The company was Apple Computers and the man was Steven Jobs (or Stephen Jobs - the caption writer didn't agree with the journalist).
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You can sense journalist Dick Cross is skeptical where he writes that "Irish housewives could be throwing away cookery books and taking their recipes off the screens of mini computers" and doctors will similarly store and retrieve patient histories. Cross' skepticism is tempered when he notes that Jobs has become a "millionaire in just four years."

Cross wasn't the only non-believer in attendance at the opening or at least his report indicates he wasn't. "At the Holyhill, Cork, assembly plant there is no time clock to monitor the coming and going of the workers. Many experienced trade union people lifted their eyebrows in disbelief at the concept." Jobs trusted his employees, but that was clearly not the norm in Ireland in 1980.

Nothing earth-shattering in the report, but I couldn't help wondering what those tough union folks made of Jobs and Apple over the 30 years since the Cork plant opened. Did they regale people with stories of how they were there when it all started, how they could see it in his eyes that he and Apple were going to be wildly successful and that the people of Cork were on a winner from the start? Or did they admit that they thought he was a loon and that his way of doing business would never work in Ireland?

These days "Irish housewives" don't save recipes on their "minicomputers." They call them up from the web using their iPads. Irish doctors presumably store all sorts of patient data in computer databases, although based on what I heard from the Minister for Health this morning, our hospitals have a way to go on this yet.

I don't know if other people shared Jobs' vision back in 1980, but I bet there were very few in Ireland. Possibly none, although I bet those who were the first employees of Apple in Ireland were quick converts. I can well imagine that many who read that report simply thought to themselves that they'd be happy if they could get a reliable telephone and electricity supply. They probably didn't so much disbelieve Steve Jobs as assume he was actually from "a Galaxy Far Far Away" from Ireland.

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