Saturday afternoon last, about 1.45. The skies over Dublin’s Parnell Square are a sunken grey, a far cry from the blissful sunshine that had greeted awaking Waterfordians that glorious morning.
Turning onto North Frederick Street, the banners, flags and placards came into view. The crowd, being entertained by a brass band set up in front of the Garden of Remembrance, was awaiting the off at the ICTU-sanctioned protest.
Looking towards the Parnell Monument, all one could see was people, a mass of ordinary decent taxpayers, none of whom had tipped Anglo Irish Bank into the abyss.
The rear of the protest line hooked three-quarters of the way around the Square, with those wearing fleeces quite pleased with their choice of insulated garb.
This was undoubtedly going to be one big protest. Huge, actually. I jogged back to my car, pulled on something warmer and fed some more coins into the metre.
Alas, my timing was immaculate as I missed Joe Higgins (complete with bullhorn) telling the moving by the millimetre crowd to keep the faith and fight the good fight. ‘Merrion Square here we come’ was the clarion call of the day as the mass protest was sent on its way by Waterford Crystal workers carrying banners that read: ‘Keep Waterford Crystal in Waterford’ and ‘Defend workers not bankers.’
While ‘the Glass’ workers were to the front of the protest, members of Waterford INTO were right at the other end of this well-behaved line, just yards from two Gardaí saddled upon magnificent grey-fleshed steeds.
Such was the scale of the protest that it took quite a while to get things moving. Protest stewards strolled up and down the lines of teachers, communists, firefighters and the odd journalist to update everyone about the protest’s movement.
“It’s reached the Dáil,” the steward informed the local teachers whom I accompanied on the day.
By now, it was almost 2.30 and we’d moved about eight feet. We’d travelled all this way and were destined not to hear a single angry union leader’s speech. It was almost enough to make me mount a protest of my own. Still, at least it wasn’t raining.
By the time three bells had tolled, we were finally on our way past the outstretched arms of Jim Larkin and down O’Connell Street, where a sizeable crowd still lined the route in solidarity.
Students who had clambered onto the side of the Liberator’s statue clapped as the protest streamed past them. “Students with teachers, students with teachers,” they chanted.
At the bottom of Grafton Street, we walked past a man who warned us of the antichrist’s return (to be made possible through mind control, apparently) while a Garda helicopter whirred overhead.
By the time we reached Merrion Square, thousands of front line protestors were making their way into nearby hotels and hostelries to reflect upon the afternoon’s events.
Four men stood near Government Offices, bizarrely holding a toilet mounted on a board at shoulder height (something to do with the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign if memory serves me correctly).
It got me thinking about a woman who had to be freed from a portaloo by Cork firefighters during an education rally last autumn, while Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance addressed a small flock.
Making my way to the Department of Finance’s front door, whose incumbent better read all the fine print that’ll be on his desk over the coming months, a mass of placards had been assembled.
Someone had left a homemade effort on a railing to the left of the Department’s door, which read: ‘Survival of the Fattest’, which drew chuckles from many a passer by.
Another effort stuck to a nearby lamppost also caught my eye. “This demo is so vulgar and crass, With workers assembled en masse, The Banks and the Baddies and we need the McEvaddies (sic), But workers ‘Ulick’ my ass.”
There were many words said that day and many more printed since, but for me the most eloquent words that summed up our current predicament were provided by Butlerstown NS teacher Joe Cashin.
“Whether it’s the Waterford Crystal workers, whether it’s the pensioners, the teachers and everyone else here today, we are all in the same fight,” he said.
And who can argue with that?