The man on the Liffey wore a balaclava. He was rowing a boat up the icy river, two companions waving yellow Ictu flags, as if they were the Vikings arriving to save the country from cowboys.
The balaclava-clad boatman was about the most sinister thing to be seen at yesterday's protest march in Dublin, and his headgear was worn in defence against the elements. Through the preceding week, dire warnings had been issued about the prospect of violence. A suspicious mind or a protest organiser might well surmise that the warnings were designed to dissuade law-abiding citizens from attending the event, on the basis that it was primed for hijacking. As it was, any nefarious elements either stayed away or stayed silent. The day passed off peacefully, as tens of thousands turned out in bitter conditions to voice protest.
(After the march finished, about 400 people made their way to Lenister House, where there some minor scuffles. Protestors threw yellow paint onto the gates of the building and burned a photograph of Brian Cowen. One protestor threw a bottle a garda, who caught it. One person was arrested.)
And it wasn't just a domestic affair. Ireland is big news these days and so the international media decamped from Government Buildings and assembled at the protest's starting point on Wood Quay. There was a crew from CNN, and another from Sky. Al-Jazeera sent along a camera as did stations from France and Germany. And check this out, Korean TV was also in town. We have gone truly global.
All were treated to some righteous drumming while the masses walked down the quays to assemble. Yellow-shirted gardaí and orange-vested stewards did a fine job of keeping everybody moving along and smiling faces handed out green whistles in an attempt to make the mother of all rackets.
Anger might have been the emotion that drove many out onto the streets where brass monkeys feared to tread yesterday, but Irish protests never spurn humour. 'DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING' read one, while another screamed out: 'IN CASE OF EMERGENCY DIAL NEIN NEIN NEIN.'
There was much abusive comment of Fianna Fáil, one of the more polite efforts being a placard depicting 'Uncle Brian' in place of Uncle Sam, with the caption: "Ask not what he did to the country, but what he did to you." (How many among the marchers voted for the largest party in the Dáil at the last election? How many of them would admit to having done so?)
By ten past midday, they were off, down Winetavern Street, across the bridge and along the specially gritted footpaths. On a raised piece of ground above the council offices on the quay, a bald man dramatically waved a large green flag bearing the words 'Erin Go Bragh'. For all the world, he evoked images of those shots of an American soldier waving the stars and stripes in the latter stages of World War II. And he knew it. Korean TV, are you watching me?
Over an hour later, the whole procession had squeezed onto O'Connell Street. The walk was accompanied by a pipe band, the shrill soundtrack of whistles, the garda support unit, and the balaclava boatman on the Liffey.
The welcoming music varied from Sean O'Riada to Kanye West, while the big screen projected images of the march, as well as delving into black and white history, all the way back to the 1916 Proclamation.
Garda estimate for attendance was in the region of 50,000 but a cursory glance at the procession down the quays might prompt the notion that Croke Park would have had a job accommodating this lot for a match.
When proceedings finally got underway, Fintan O'Toole took the mike and warmed up the crowd with references to Jim Larkin, 1916 and the current state of affairs. Actor Ruth McCabe read bits of the Proclamation and the 1919 Democratic Programme. Jack O'Connor stepped up and gave it welly. Frances Black sang a song. Things were looking tame enough, as if the march had done the cathartic trick and all the anger was back there floating on the Liffey.
Christy Moore brought down the curtain with a rendition of his song from the last serious recession, 'Ordinary Man'. It might be an idea were he to adapt to current conditions and substitute the line, "I've had to work for everything I own" with "I've borrowed for everything I own".
By 2.30pm, it was done and dusted, a good day for protest rather than a great day. Still, between the elements that sent brass monkeys scurrying for cover, and the dire warnings of a riot, enough turned out to show their displeasure at depths which have been plumbed.
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