Considering Dublin’s ardent Revolutionary credentials, before, through and beyond 1916, it’s more than peculiar that radical activity and protest had subsequently failed to blossom or even, to any meaningful extent, take root in the city. Example, we’ve never had anything here to compare with the radicalism that built barricades and fired street protests around Continental Europe in the decades from the Sixties. And even the mild mannered Brits, over the same era, managed to transform Ban the Bomb, Greenham Common and Anti-Apartheid into something approaching mass protest movements. By comparison, what did Dublin deliver? The so-called Gentle Revolution (UCD 1969) and a few anaemic ‘occupations’ like Hume Street and Wood Quay. Looking back, Dublin’s meagre activism comes across as less a drive for a better future than as a sharp reverse up a one way street.
Notwithstanding our retreat from fervoured protest, a slightly smug, diminutive radicalism is now the Irish vogue, exhibiting an almost 18th century drawing room level of reserve. This can be detected in ‘struggles’ such as the popular movement against water charges. In its protest phase we saw this erupting into something decidedly sub-volcanic, only just as quickly to witness its demise.
Ultimately all protest amounts to public performance – it’s street theatre presented on the widest stage. As such the activity is linked to locale; Trafalgar Square, Washington Mall, in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate. For the world at large, such places have become potent symbols of popular dissent. Consider also the emotions evoked by other, now notorious, protest spaces: Tahrir Square and Tiananmen, ghastly, bleak places that resonate still with the executioners’ wrong.
I have mentioned Dublin protest’s listless quality, but added to this, the delivery of our protest performance is highly diffuse. Sometimes, O’Connell St will host the parade. On occasion College Green is the favoured space. Mostly we settle for a terribly cramped and claustrophobic space before the Dail.
But opportunity may be waiting literally around the corner, as College Green, that ancient cockpit of revolutionary cant is soon to be vacated by the endless grinding traffic. Could we then honour this public plaza with a worthy occupation, transformation into our Revolution Square? Sure, if that succeeds why we might even then bring down the Dail…
Words: Reg McCabe
Reg McCabe is a tour guide and local historian and was formerly a business lobbyist. You can follow him on Twitter @timethemetours
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