Eamon Moran is fascinated as his wife Susan tries on boots in Brown Thomas yesterday

THOUSANDS flocked into Dublin city yesterday to take advantage of a first for Irish retailers – the Christmas sales starting on St Stephen's Day.

It may have been unpalatable to those who believe commercial interests encroach too far on traditional values, but people vote with their feet and yesterday there was no shortage of votes.

Brown Thomas staff said, happily, that footfall had far outweighed expectation with winding queues snaking out and around the famous Grafton Street department store.

At 10am the doors were finally opened and the sales enthusiasts rushed past security guards, down side aisles and up escalators – everything was up for grabs here and at as much as half the price.

"Today is even busier than Christmas Eve," said a spokeswoman, adding that the level of discounts were also more severe than on the previous first days of the sales.

"People literally ran into the shop; for the first 50 people it was a race. There were straight lines being made for Gucci, Mulberry and Lanvin."

The level of enthusiasm was hardly surprising given that the price of bags were being slashed from €1,800 to €900 in some cases – it may be opulent but it's affordable opulence, St Stephen's Day or not.

Arnotts enlisted the help of Ireland's favourite tall-haired, tone-deaf sons Jedward, whose appearance at Henry Street seemed to be of more significance to children than the various Santa Grottos that had preceded them.

Inside the department store, queues of people, taking well over an hour, were inching slowly towards the autograph table in a masterclass coup of marketing.

"I like them because they are terrible singers," marveled one young girl, her comments drowned out in a squall of screaming voices.

By 11 o'clock in the morning the Arnotts car park was virtually full with many observers agreeing that town was beginning to get even busier than on Christmas Eve, the traditional busiest day of yuletide shopping.

Clerys, across O'Connell Street, and several larger stores in the Dundrum Town Centre were also enjoying large crowds.

This was a retail revolution with one store, slowly and then more quickly followed by others stores, deciding to open their doors on St Stephen's Day for the first time. And later town began to resemble a normal weekend.

"Once you have the draw of a big department store opening it makes more sense for the small ones to do so because they know there'll be shoppers," Tom Coffey, chief executive of the Dublin City Business Association (DCBA) had said ahead of the rush.

"For a lot of retailers it's a question of survival. It's voluntary for both workers and consumers – nobody has to work or go shopping if they don't want to."