Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, there was a dude. He was a British dude. That British dude was captured by Irish bandits when he was a young man, so he spent a long time in Ireland. After his years of enslavement were over, he left and then returned to the Emerald Isle. That delicious colcannon – it brings everyone back. He eventually became a bishop. As bishop, he converted a lot of heathens, using a shamrock as his visual aid to explain the Trinity.
The bishop died. Then he became a saint. Then millions of Irish people were named after him. Then the Irish government sanctioned a religious holiday in his name. Then the holiday became secular. And now I’m smashed between hundreds of people on Dame Street, my eardrums long punctured by ceaseless whistle blasts, waiting for the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade to begin. People are shoving, trying to get a better look at the street, even though we’ve been waiting for a couple of hours and nothing has happened yet.
It’s a Bank Holiday, and there’s a joyous buzz in the air; students off from school, workers off from the office, hugging and drinking and storming the blocked off streets. There are Gardaí everywhere, and paramedics, too. Irish flags wave every few feet. The good folks from Suas are stationed on every corner, armed with green paint and collection buckets – a shamrock on the cheek for charity.
The parade is taking a while to start, so I people watch, admiring the costumes. Four leaf clover and Irish flag face paint; Irish flag striped clown wigs; green jester hats; shamrock antlers; Irish color feather boas. Hot items: green leprechaun hats with long red leprechaun beards or horned Dublin Viking helmets. Not a “kiss me, I’m Irish” pin in sight. Instead:
I have a decent vantage point near the Olympia, but some other paradegoers across the street hoist themselves up on high window ledges to get a better view.
The parade begins, in a whoop of drums, bagpipes, and dance music:
The last float rolls past at around 2:30, and I head towards Merrion Square, to the St. Patrick’s Day Fair. It is my wish to ride the Ferris Wheel and look all down at the city but the line and the crowds are so profuse I bail, head instead to Temple Bar. The streets of City Centre are still clear, apart from the street sweepers, and I notice several crushed beer bottles on the sidewalk, outside Trinity College.
Crossing empty Dame Street, I spy a trio of boys huddled near a corner. One of them has draped himself in an Irish flag. They make a nice triptych so I take out my camera. As I do, I notice that one of them has his lad out, urinating against a wall. He notices me with my camera before I notice he’s got the bishop in hand, and he waves it at me – a limp salute. I do not take a picture.
In Temple Bar, the earlier joy has given way to complete madness. The crowds are loitering on the streets, streaming in and out of the pubs. Viking helmets bob above the crowd, and orange-faced teenage girls grasp each other: “I love you. I really, really love you.” Intermittently, loud, unidentified bangs explode and the crowd cheers. Signs advertise Cottage Pie for 2 euro, and Irish mussels, too. I see another man urinating against a corner, again in broad daylight. More smashed bottles, crushed between cobblestones. It’s worth noting that the majority of the revelers are tourists, screaming, clicking photos, and fisting beers. I note, too, that none of this beer is green.
Later, near midnight, I’m in Slattery’s Pub. There’s an Ireland-Wales rugby match on the TV, which nobody seems to be watching. The last call lights blink, and the crowd groans. I’m drinking a Guinness for all of my friends back home who have “St. Patty’s Day in Dublin” on their bucket lists, but I’d rather be eating a heaping plate of corned beef and cabbage. And then I remember that I live in Ireland and can have corned beef and cabbage any ol’ time I want.