Few sporting events have ever captured the popular imagination in Ireland quite like the Italia ’90 World Cup. Soccer scholars recall the football at Italia ’90 as poor, yet everything else about the tournament was unforgettable. The Republic of Ireland team reached the World Cup quarter-finals and were paraded as heroes on their return to a country still dizzy from the excitement and pleasure of a month of sheer escapism - a month where normal work and social routines were casually cast aside; a month of grand gatherings around television screens in houses, pubs and hotels; of carefree singing and dancing with strangers in the streets; of unconscious outpourings of pride in an Irishness untainted by problematic politics or religion.
After a decade scarred by high unemployment, soaring emigration, divisive social debates and spiralling Troubles-related violence, the Italia ’90 experience, fleeting as it was, presented an image of an altogether different Ireland.
This exhibition, in reflecting upon the Irish experience of Italia ’90, and what came before and after it, tells a story that is as much about society as it is about sport. What emerged from this global sporting adventure was a unique Irish social and cultural story. It was unprecedented – and it was fun.