As Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, a 16-year-old Niall O'Dowd was among the thousands of Irish who held their breaths.

I was 16 years old in the summer of 1969, working my first summer job in an electrical plant about ten miles from my hometown of Drogheda, on Ireland’s east coast.

The night and morning of the moon landing are impressed on my brain forever. Like 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination, I can recall July 20, 1969, as vividly as yesterday.

My family had gathered around our black and white television set to await the great moment.

RTÉ, the Irish television channel, was the only station we had and things were still pretty primitive.

A presenter called Kevin O’Kelly was the only host. He sat there literally for hours, trying to fill in the waiting as we awaited word on when Neil Armstrong, who had piloted Eagle the craft that had landed on the moon just after 9:00 pm our time, would open the hatch and step onto earth’s closest neighbor.

The 1969 moon landing. (Getty Images)

The 1969 moon landing. (Getty Images)

There was no panel of experts, no animation, or simulation. All O’Kelly had was a (very) rough replica of the lunar module and he kept telling us we would get live pictures when the Eagle hatch was opened.

Several of my siblings fell asleep as I did myself. I can only remember one other occasion staying up as a family, which was the Muhammad Ali/Sonny Liston fight some years before.

We were awoken by a shout from our Dad soon after 3 am.

Kevin O’Kelly had just pronounced that “the hatch was open” and we were about to witness history.

Except that we could see very little. There was a very blurry image of a man descending a few steps onto lunar soil and then the immortal words -- “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” etc.

It was arguably America’s greatest moment.

It was history as we had never known it or never will again, Man had reached past his earthly existence and stepped on another world. I rushed outside to look at the moon and imagined all the billions of people who had looked up at earth’s closest neighbor and how tonight was different. The man in the moon, actually the two men on the moon as Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong, had become fact not a children’s fairy tale.

I went back to bed but not to sleep. My boyhood mind was fired by the images and voices I had just seen. I knew the world would never be the same again. It was a turning point in history. I hope today’s young people see the day when a man like Armstrong lands on Mars --- that only seems a matter of time too.

So thank you, Neil Armstrong a brave hero if ever there was one. Thank you for what you gave us -- a moment of history that stopped the world as we knew it and made sure it would never be the same again.

* Originally published in 2014, updated in 2022.

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