ugly scenes as Rioters Tear Through dublin City Centre

A personal account of the riot on O'Connell Street, from when the first Gardai car was set alight to when glass paved the streets of the city centre.

The first fire set in what would be a long evening of destruction

Walking down O’Connell Street on a wintery Thursday evening one would usually expect to run into nothing more than people briskly walking along, amidst the budding holiday cheer. But this evening would see this scene burnt to a crisp, when at roughly seven p.m. a stolen Gardai vehicle was set on fire in the middle of O’Connell Street’s north-bound lane. A crowd of onlookers stopped to observe this spectacle while countless masked teenagers and young men jumped around, seemingly in delight at the chaos the fire had caused. An abandoned bus sitting just behind the burning Gardai vehicle was next in line to be lit on fire, as several men threw burning objects into the driver’s seat and dashed off to watch the rest of the bus be consumed by flames.

The attention of the crowd was soon turned to a crashing sound nearby, as a boy (who looked to be no older than 12 or 13-years-old) smashed the glass doors of the O’Connell Street Footlocker with what looked to be a metal pole from a street sign; after several hard and angry swings the glass shattered, triggering a roaring stampede of people sprinting to the stores’ now-open gates. Pairs of Asics and Jordans, and Nike sweatshirts, were tossed into the mass of people, leaving mismatched shoes and trampled cardboard boxes in the street. Ten minutes later this concentrated chaos shifted to the store next-door, Schuh, as a second boy (who also looked to be barely older than 12) shattered the glass doors.

Strange Joy

An unsettling lull followed this first round of looting; there was a bizarre air of festivity, as if the violence that had just erupted was a carnival spectacle, a mad children’s game that hundreds of people had decided to play. While an occasional mutter of disapproval could be heard from passersby who were simply trying to wade through the mess, the loudest sounds came from cheerful masked young men and women, laden with shoe boxes and sweatshirts, picking up a stray hat or shoe for a “souvenir”.

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It did not remain “peaceful” for very long. Shouts and blue lights alerted the mob to the arrival of the Gardai, many of whom were outfitted in riot gear. Their presence seemed to re-energize the looters, who took the opportunity to break into Asics (on the corner of O’Connell Street. and Middle Abbey Street) before the advancing line of Gardai reached them. Other rioters with pyrotechnic proclivities rolled several dumpsters across Middle Abbey Street, lighting their contents on fire as if to create some sort of flaming blockade. For a moment the masked mob gathered behind the flaming trash in a united front, as if in preparation to rush the police. One man shouted encouragement, saying, “If we stand together, they cannot take us all!”

A line of helmeted and shielded Gardai came to a stop on the other side of the burning dumpsters, standing silently but nevertheless telegraphing the message that they would not give. In a massively relieving anticlimax, most of the crowd backed down the street and moved on, boys smashing storefronts as if to show the world the rebels that they were. Curiously, one man chose to sit in the middle of the now empty street in front of the line of fire, as if he was oblivious to the destruction around him and simply wanted to warm himself; he almost seemed to want a roasting stick and bag of marshmallows.

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The crowd, now only a fraction of its original size and mainly composed of juveniles, continued to move down the street, smashing store fronts and breaking into various pricey clothing and shoe stores. Lines of Gardai to the north slowly moved west to ensure that no one could double back to the city centre. The pavement was strewn with broken glass, dirty cardboard, and hangers, and shop alarms and firecrackers were deafening and shrill. What made this scene so strange though, were the undamaged Christmas lights still shining up above, as well as the traffic lights that continued to change from red to green at regular intervals. Their normalness felt completely alien and eerie… thank God they were there.

A question that many asked: “Why?”

The professed reason for the “protest” was that it was a response to the man (allegedly an Algerian immigrant and naturalized citizen) who had earlier stabbed three children and their teacher. Thanks to the quick intervention by a Brazilian immigrant named Caio Benecio (now deservedly lauded as a hero), he was prevented from hurting more people and taken into police custody. However, according to a recording allegedly of the group responsible for the riot (yes, it was planned), the real reason for their “protest” was to get the attention of the media.

The narrator of the recording at one point says, “any fucking gypo, foreigner, anyone, just kill them… no more foreigners are allowed in this poxy country, no fucking more”. This was just one of many comments touting anti-immigrant sentiment that flooded social media in the wake of the riot; it came to a head when rioters attempted to set fire to the lobby of a Hotel Inn Express because they believed the hotel housed immigrants. Live commenters on X (formerly known as Twitter) suggested that the rioters move on to the Dáil; a few even suggested they “protest” at the Taoiseach’s personal residence.

According to one spectator I spoke to, an event like this was a “long time coming, a long time coming.” But violence is not an ideal answer to any problem, and tearing down your fellow man does nothing but sink everyone further into the muck; it is clear, however, on all sides, regardless of political affiliation, that Ireland is frustrated. The same spectator went on to say that peaceful protests had been happening for years but “changed nothing… maybe riots will get their attention.”

To quote the great Martin Luther King, Jr., a “riot is the language of the unheard”, and extremism most often occurs when people who are in particularly desperate circumstances cry out and no one seems to hear them. The question now is, what change will begin to spring from this? Or will Dublin again see such an out of character event?

Maura Corkery
Maura Corkery

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