as recalled by
Eddy Carroll, August 1995
Once Upon A Time...
"I'M STARTING a club for Commodore computers, and I think you'll find it
interesting." It was a warm May evening in 1983, and the voice on the
phone was Eddy Evers, a dutch educator who was teaching in Ireland at
I had met Eddy the previous July, at a computer summer camp he organised
in Willow Park School. The computers used were VIC-20's, which suited me
nicely, as I'd been programming my own VIC-20 for the past six months. I soon
progressed from BASIC to assembly language, and must have made an impression,
since here I was being invited to the inaugral meeting of a new user group.
I persuaded Geoffrey Reeves, the computer science teacher at my school, to
come along too. St Andrew's had several Commodore PETs, and I reckoned
it would be no harm to have a familiar face on hand.
As well as phoning around, Eddy had also written to one of the local
newspapers, inviting anyone interested to come along. And so it was that
nine of us came to be seated around a table in Willow Park, a few evenings
later, none of us quite sure what to expect, but all sharing a common
interest in Commodore hardware.
Other users at that first meeting were Liam Murphy, Stephen Kemp, Ian Mellor,
and John White. Regrettably, the names of the remaining founders have been
lost in the mists of time. Nevertheless, there was obviously interest in the
idea, and we quickly decided on the goals of the group. Eddy Evers was
proposed as the first chairman, while Geoff took on responsibility as Software
Librarian. After some discussion, we decided to meet every second Friday,
with the committee meeting on alternate Thursdays, a tradition that remained
up until last October.
It quickly became apparent that the initial membership represented quite
a wide range of expertise and talent. PETs, VICs and C64s were all
represented, and several of the members had significant hardware design
experience those were the days when owning a computer was a rather
strange and unusual thing, and many owners came from a technical background.
The average age of CUGI members at this time was over 30.
The Wonder Years
During its formative years, CUGI quickly attracted many enthusiastic
members. An unexpected piece of luck was the availability of cheap
5.25" floppy disks direct from disk manufacturer Memorex,
thanks to Liam Murphy, who worked there,
and was able to negotiate a special rate for club members. At a time when
floppy disks were selling for £4 each, or £33 for a box of 10, a price of £1
per disk certainly helped CUGI to attract new users!
The format of early club meetings was quite similar to those of the current
day typically, several items would be presented in turn, interspersed
with snippets of news and rumours, along with questions. One big difference
was that it was the rule, rather than the exception, for non-committee members
to get up and give a presentation!
In the early 80's, there was much to get
excited about in computers; I still remember the thrill caused by
Commodore's International Soccer cartridge for the C64, the night it
was demonstrated at CUGI, and the fun we had hacking into the code to change
the names on the team jerseys! The arrival of 1.5 Minute Backup
for Commodore's 1541 disk drive also caused many heads to turn. Prior to
this, we were used to waiting an excruciating 30 minutes for Commodore's
1541 Backup to do the same job!
One club hardware project that stuck in my mind was the CommTalk
speech module for the PET and C64, designed and built by Ian Mellor.
This predated the Amiga's built-in speech capabilities by several years, and
certainly provided lots of entertainment for the members, as well as selling
quite a few units locally.
We also had a series of guest speakers, including several from local computer
shops. One particular shop caused not a little consternation, when it accused
the club of being nothing more than a "den of piracy", and this was an image
that regrettably stuck with the club for some time, despite its inaccuracy.
During this time, the club also worked on building links with other clubs
around the world, including ICPUG in the UK and TPUG in Toronto, Canada.
Through these links, we started to build up an extensive collection of public
domain software for all Commodore machines. The C64 disks in particular
proved very popular, and for several years, I produced a regular PD disk
that featured the most interesting pieces of new software drawn from these
After serving two years, Eddy Evers decided to step down as chairman, and in
his place came Turlough McDonald. It was around this time that the club
moved from its original meeting spot at Willow Park, to nearby St Andrews
College, on Booterstown Avenue, a convenient arrangement organised by
Geoff who ran the Computer Science department at the college.
This heralded a rather turbulent time in
CUGI's history, since the committee members didn't always see eye to eye on
club matters. I was serving on the committee at that time, as Software
and I well remember receiving copies of solicitors' letters in the post which
were being exchanged by some of the other members - quite a thrill for
someone still in secondary school!
It was also during this time that the decision was made to bar unaccompanied
under-16's from attending club meetings. (Since I was under 16 at the
time, it was quite interesting to be on the committee that made that
decision!). In fact, the rule was very relaxed, and was really intended as
a deterrent to parents who seemed to view CUGI as a baby-sitting service
which allowed them to enjoy a night out on the town without having to
arrange a babysitter for Junior. Things came to a head when the school
fire alarm was set off by one such hothead.
In time, however, things settled down. Turlough stepped down as chairman to
explore other interests, and was replaced by Terry Redmond. By this time,
the club had produced three newsletters over the years, and after each issue
the committee had sworn 'Never again!'. However, with the advent of
affordable DTP software, laser printers, and cheap photocopying, the
committee decided it might be worth one more shot. And thus was born the
current incarnation of the newsletter.
The early editorship rotated between myself and Shane Broadberry. Early
issues were produced in A4 format, but this was later changed to the current
A5 booklet style, which reduced the amount of photocopying required, and also
allowed us to add a cardboard cover, increasing the durability of each issue.
Geoff also took over as editor for a spell, while I supposedly studied hard for
The newsletter continues to this day, appearing every three months, and has
become one of the hallmarks of the club, covering a wide range of topics,
both computer and non-computer related. It has even led to CUGI authors
being published in well known Amiga magazines such as
Just Amiga Monthly and
Preparing for the 90's
After Terry Redmond stepped down as chairman, Geoff was persuaded to take his
place, having served on the committee from the beginning. This was about
the time the Amiga 500 was starting to take-off, although Geoff was still
more than happy using his Commodore 128.
In spite of that, the club slowly
began to reflect the increasing popularity of the Amiga, and it became more
and more common to see the new machine crowding out the C64 on the evening's
schedule. Early items like the Boing!
demo, Newtek's original slide
show, and most memorably, the
Juggler demo, made a big impression.
In particular, the Juggler (and the program which it gave birth to,
Sculpt 3D) led to several
of the members getting very involved with 3D ray-tracing.
Just as the PET owners in the early 80's bemoaned all the attention
that the C64 was getting, so the C64 owners were quite vocal in expressing
their distaste for the new-fangled Amigas. But that's progress...
It was during this time that the CUGI Table Quiz was introduced. Originally
planned as a one-off, it proved so popular that it soon became a regular
yearly and then twice-yearly event, with members fielding a range of questions
on general knowledge, audio, and video, the only restriction being: no
The club also became affiliated with Commodore UK, and in recognition of
its contributions to the Commodore community in Ireland, was granted
Certified Developer status. This arrangement allowed CUGI to offer members
Commodore hardware at a discounted rate, as well as getting early access
to new machines and OS releases.
Unfortunately, this also led to several unhappy experiences, chronicled in
past newsletters, as Commodore UK experimented with one unreliable third-party
courier after another. In the most memorable instant, one computer crossed
the Irish channel three separate times before finally reaching its
destination in Dublin!
Probably the most maligned member was Tommy Gibbons,
who waited over twelve months for his A2000 order to be correctly fulfilled!
(In the end, Commodore UK threw in an A2630 accelerator at no extra charge,
by way of compensation.) And of course, no discussion on Commodore UK
would be complete without a special word for Sharon McGuffie, CBM's
Developer Liason, who went to enormous lengths to help resolve these
Another development during these years was the club bulletin board. Originally
running on an Amiga 500 with 2400 baud modem, an A570 CD-ROM drive was
quickly added, along with the Fred Fish library on CD. Since then, the
hardware has been upgraded to an Amiga 1200 with SCSI adapter, CD-ROM,
external SCSI hard drive, and 28.8kbps modem, and is ably managed by
Club Sysop Matthew Brookes.
In 1993, the club celebrated its 10th Anniversary. One of the more notable
events of the year was a special meeting which featured every Commodore
computer sold to date (with the exception of the Kim 1, which proved rather
hard to track down!)
End of an Era...
Having seen the club through to the end of its first decade, Geoff stepped
down as Chairman at the end of 1993. In recognition of his contributions
over the years, he was presented with a one-of-a-kind CUGI paperweight,
along with a nice Picasso II graphics card for his Amiga 2000 (yes, he had
by then succumbed to the Amiga's charms).
The newly elected chairman was Tommy Rolfs. As lead programmer
with Dublin-based Amiga games house Gremlin Graphics, Tommy had some useful
inside contacts. By now, with the rise of the IBM PC, some members were
starting to drift away from the Amiga, and membership numbers were
It became apparent that Friday meetings were in danger of
becoming non-events, and so Tommy proposed that the meeting times be
changed to Sundays instead. After a unaminous vote from members (bar one) at
the AGM, the change was approved and monthly Sunday meetings commenced in
Shortly afterwards, Tommy was whisked off to California by
Virgin Interactive Entertainment,
and Karl Jeacle
took over the position of Chairman. As chief postmaster,
webmaster, and everything-else-master at Broadcom, a subsidiary of Telecom
Eireann, Karl proved the perfect person to get CUGI wired for the 90's, and
indeed much club business is now conducted via email.
Although initially somewhat quiet, the Sunday meetings were soon
well attended. In particular, a special Internet meeting generated a huge
amount of interest, and brought many first time visitors to the club.
Other special `theme' meetings are planned for the future. We have also
initiated a policy of introducing members to other platforms, including
the Mac, PC, and Unix, the intent being to broaden members' horizons,
and perhaps make them more aware of how unique a machine the Amiga
The Unseen Future
It's a cliche, but I'll say it anyway: it seems like only yesterday that
CUGI was taking its first hesitant steps as a user group. There have
certainly been many interesting times since 1983, and I've met a wide
variety of unusual and interesting people. While most of the early members
have long since departed, I believe the core values of the club remain the
same: to promote and explore the use of Commodore computers for education
Although many of our current members are less technically oriented than in
the past, the membership still reflects a broad range of talent and
experience. My experience has been that CUGI members are often willing to
go to extrordinary lengths to help out one another with whatever problem
they may have, and that remains as true today as it was in 1983.
With the recent acquisition of the Amiga technology by Escom, it looks
like the Amiga will be around for a while yet, and chances are, so will CUGI.
As for myself... I'm looking forward to writing the next chapter of this
story 10 years from now!
Visit the original CUGI site, where the above article was first published.