From the Archive: Before the Diet Coke hunk, there was this chap

Indeed the sugarless soft drink itself was a mere toddler, having been on the market for only three years. When this picture was taken in the summer of 1987, the legendary Diet Coke hunks weren’t even a twinkle in an advertising copywriter’s eye. Unless, of course, he is about to retrieve his shirt from the “no iron” cycle. The poet Patrick Kavanagh recorded a visit there in his Irish Press column City Commentary. But when Paddy Whelan went to photograph the demolition of the Tara Street baths and wash-house, don’t tell me he hadn’t some hunk-type mischief in mind when he asked this particular builder – named Myles Behan – to step in front of the camera. But from 1885 until its demolition – the space now houses the Markievicz swimming pool and leisure centre – the laundry was a bit of a Dublin legend. For, as the caption reveals, the baleful-looking circular thingummyjig he is about to demolish is, in fact, a washing machine. Never let it be said that this newspaper isn’t way ahead of its time. A more recent chronicler of the capital, Bill Cullen, described it in his book It’s A Long Way From Penny Apples as “a big red-brick building, full of steel washing urns, steam spewing everywhere”. Once the viewer gets over the excitement of seeing Behan without his shirt, however, it’s time for a Dublin-style reality check. The idea of bringing your laundry to Tara Street, shoving it into one of these grim appliances and paying sixpence an hour for the privilege is almost unimaginable now. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from and from bookshops, priced €19.99 Nevertheless, Behan has donned a pair of gloves in order to inspect its innards. The laundry’s 40 tubs were still in weekly use as late as 1949, so when our photo was taken, this particular tub hadn’t been given a spin for nearly 40 years. These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from