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You're welcome: Foot spas, Soda Streams, and other Irish gifts of yore...

What were the most popular gifts received in Irish households back in the day? From VHS tapes to Zogabongs, we take a look….

BEFORE THERE WAS online shopping, easy access to credit cards and an abundance of international retailers, present-buying in Ireland could get a little repetitive.

With a limited amount of shops – not to mention two channels on television – most of us were exposed to the same ads and the same places to do our shopping.

What was the result? Well, there ended up being some presents that were a lot more popular than others. We take a look at some of them – what other ones would you add?

David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ CD


It wasn’t just David Gray’s head that bopped incessantly to his track Babylon – it seemed at one point that all of Ireland knew the words to this song backwards. Take a look at any Irish household’s CD collection and you’ll find this album. It might be dusty now, but at one point you can be guaranteed it was played all the time. All the time. Did we mention it was played all the time? This record was bought as a birthday present, engagement present, Confirmation present, barbecue-hosting present… there was never a bad reason to buy someone a White Ladder CD.

Other examples: Moby – Play, and Christy Moore Live at Vicar Street

Telly-themed items


It wasn’t enough to watch Zig and Zag, Bosco or Dustin on television – you had to own various paraphernalia emblazoned with their logo and faces too. Two members of TheJournal.ie staff had Bosco tricycles, while others had Zig and Zag videos, t-shirts and even teddies. Plus, there were those ubiquitous Dustin albums that were played on long journeys and had everyone in stitches. Ah, the memories.

Mary Fitzgerald and Don Conroy books


If you know how to draw owls extremely well, that’s probably because you owned the art instruction book Wildlife Fun with Don Conroy, which was a popular Christmas present back in the day. Don was a regular guest on The Den and showed a generation of children that art is both nerdy and cool. Meanwhile, Mary Fitzgerald taught us that make and do is a skill that should never be questioned – just give her two empty toilet rolls, a safety pin and a marker and she’d rustle up an impressive novelty item in no time. As you can tell from the clip above, nothing has changed.

Tacky holiday presents

(get directly down/Flickr)

What better way to demonstrate your love for a friend than buying them a woven friendship bracelet, or a pendant with their name on a grain of rice? Actually, we think there are much cooler ways, but those are just two examples of popular tacky presents brought home from foreign climes to Ireland. Also popular: fridge magnets, snow-globes, huge Toblerone bars, pottery that you can’t use, and t-shirts saying ‘My sister went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’.

Foot spa


Take a look in the back of an upstairs wardrobe and you’re guaranteed to find one of these – a foot spa. Once seen as the ultimate in relaxation, foot spas were bought for mums at every given opportunity. But did they get used? Well, try being a parent for the day and then tell us where you’d squeeze in even 10 minutes of soaking your tootsies.

Soda Stream


Soda Streams are gaining popularity once more, which is interesting considering how fast they fell out of favour. At one stage madly desired by children of a certain age, these were a magic gift to receive. Unlimited fizzy cola! Back then, cavities and nutrition were at the low end of our priorities. Now, people take a more mindful approach to soda streams, but we wonder if they will ever reach the dizzy heights in popularity they once did.

One Hell of a Do by D’Unbelievables


D’Unbelievables represent Irish comedy as it should be – able to embrace the best and worst aspects of Irishness, but without feeling too myopic. Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny toured the country for around a decade, releasing six live videos along the way. While they could be a little adult at times, essentially D’Unbelievables’ sets were suitable for all the family to enjoy, with as much to laugh at for parents as children. If you didn’t get two copies of the same D’Unbelievables video for Christmas one year, well you simply weren’t celebrating the festive season properly.

Footballer biographies

(Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland)

Footballer biographies promised to give us a glimpse into the mind of our favourite sports stars, hence their popularity as presents. But did they really deliver on their promise? Honestly, we don’t think so, but they did help us feel like we knew a little about their motivation. Copies of Keane – The Autobiography were popular around Christmas 2002, so TheJournal.ie footie fans and the folks at TheScore.ie recall – but having read it cover to cover, they’re still unable to tell you what goes on in the Mind of Roy.

The Guinness Book of Records


Gather round, children. Before there was this thing called ‘the internet’, if people wanted information they looked for it in books. If you wanted to know who had the longest nails in the world, who was the smallest person in the world, or how many people it took to make the world’s largest pizza, the book you consulted was the Guinness Book of Records. Was it easy to find this book? Why, it certainly was – because each and every Christmas morning, one would have miraculously appeared on the pile of presents, whether requested or not. And it was inevitably one of the most-read books in the house.

‘Simply Delicious’ by Darina Allen

(Kate Horgan/Photocall Ireland)

Peek at the cookery book shelf in any Irish kitchen and you’ll find Simply Delicious by Darina Allen and – if you’re lucky – Simply Delicious Christmas. The former was effectively the bible for Irish home cooks and Darina’s smiling face on the cover assured the reader she was a benevolent culinary Goddess. No matter how terrible you were at cooking, you couldn’t really mess up thanks to Darina’s no-frills instructions. We still reach for this when the festive season arrives and we want to make sure we don’t poison our relations.

Other gifts: “To School Through the Fields” and other Alice Taylor books, Under the Hawthorn Tree, Juicy Tube lip glosses, football annuals, comic annuals.

What gifts would you add to this list?

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