This was in the days before Eircom, my informant told me.
It was even in the days before Telecom Eireann, all the way back in the dark ages when the telephone system was controlled by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, rural exchanges were still connected manually, the handset came in any colour you wanted so long as it was black, and 300 Baud was an impressive speed for internet communications, not that anyone apart from a few academics knew what the internet was.
My friend was working as an operator, covering the nightshift, connecting Dublin callers to country friends and relatives, on a night like any other.
‘Hello, could I have Ballynamadan 5 please.’
‘Certainly caller, please hold.’
‘Hello, Donegal exchange.’
‘Donegal, this is Dublin, could I have Ballynamadan please.’
‘ Ballynamadan exchange here.’
‘Ballynamadan, this is Dublin, could I have Ballynamadan 5 please.’
‘They’re not in!’
‘Could you just try please.’
‘I’m telling you they’re not in. Hold on, they’re in one of three places this time of night.’
‘Hello Joe, are the Boyles there?’
‘Aye, hold on a minute.’
And I bet you thought the surveillance society was something new.