Last week after a tragic attack Dublin’s city center exploded into riots. Supposedly protesting against immigrants destroying the city, they went on to loot, burn, and destroy the city. I was caught in the center of these riots and was at one point scared I wouldn’t get out safely.
Bear in mind that at the time of writing, not all of the details have been officially reported. There are still rumours swirling around about the original attack, and many of the stories about the inciting incident have been consumed by stories of the riots. So, although I’m trying to stick to the facts here, I may have gotten some details wrong.
A man in his 50s attacked and stabbed several people, including children, outside a school on Parnell Square. During the attack 3 children and another adult were injured. It’s unclear if the children were the target of the attack, but from what I can tell it seems that they could have been.
A Brazilian Deliveroo driver witnessed the attack and leapt in to help. He was later quoted as saying, “It was pure instinct”. Being a father himself, he didn’t hesitate to take off his helmet and use it strike the attacker. Other people stepped in to help and the attacker was subdued.
One of the young girls attacked is in critical care, the other two kids were only mildly hurt. They will recover physically, although they will have to endure this traumatic memory for the rest of their lives.. A woman is also in hospital after she put herself between the attacker and the children. Her, and the others who intervened are heroes.
The attacker was also in hospital, and there are rumours that two men “beat the shit out of him” and that he “may not survive”, but at the time of writing we can’t know for sure. Another rumour that started spreading was that the attacker was an “Algerian Immigrant”.
That last rumour was the only thing people seemed to care about.
Learning the News
After I got back to my desk after lunch we had been sent a message about the attack. It was just around the corner from our office so it was important that we knew. I followed the story for a little while and went through the usual motions. It was tragic, of course, but after taking a moment everyone will eventually move on with their day.
I did notice something strange, though I didn’t think much of it at first. A lot of heavily downvoted comments suggesting that it was “obviously” an immigrant, and that the borders needed to be closed. The police had only released the age and gender of the attacker at the time, but it was clear the rumour mill was already churning at this point.
As the afternoon went on, we could hear sirens on Parnell Street. At first we though they just needed another ambulance, but at some point I realised that I was hearing them too often. Something else was going on. I went back to the news and learned that protests had started. At the time I was confused. I didn’t understand why people would be protesting.
I asked around and was told that they were protesting against immigration. I was still a little confused. What did a random attack have to do with immigration?
It was near the end of the day so I decided to wander down toward Parnell Square to see what was going on. As soon as I stepped outside I noticed how empty of traffic Parnell Street was. Another gardai car flew past, sirens blaring. I walked toward the square, still not expecting to see much.
As I got close I noticed there was a crowd around the monument. Toward the square I saw the Garda blockading the road to the square, wearing full riot gear and shields. The crowd was already riled up: I saw bottles and what might have been fireworks hurled at the police. Things were about to get bad.
I knew some people were still working so I went back to the office to warn them. On my way back I got another hint as to the purpose of the riots. A group of four black men were being followed and harassed by a woman. I heard her say, “when me dad comes out he’s gonna put a bullet in yous heads!” This was right outside the entrance to my office.
I went back inside and warned my colleagues that they should leave. By this time we had learned that buses were being cancelled, so we decided to go to a pub far away from the riots that were about to kick off, and wait for all this to blow over.
At the pub we spent more time on our phones than usual. Checking Xitter and Slack for updates on what was happening. A video started circulating of someone kicking in the windscreen of a Garda car. It was a mixture of unjustified amusement and shock when we learned they had set one on fire.
Later we saw the bus burning down the bottom of O’Connell Street, and the LUAS had also been set on fire. At this point, all public transport in Dublin had basically been shut down. Work told us we should expense a taxi home. We still believed we were far away from the riots when they closed the pub, locking the gates. We weren’t locked in – they were still letting people out. They were locking the rioters out.
We left, and figured we needed to move further away from the riots. Some of our other colleagues were in Token, a bar further to the west that hosts a bunch of arcade and pinball machines. During the walk along the now-dark LUAS line, we could hear a helicopter patrolling the town center. We got a message from work telling us not to come into the office the next day.
We were in Token for less than an hour before the owner came around telling us that they were closing. We left, now understanding it was time to go home. But many of the people with us were staying in a hotel on the Liffey, close to O’Connell street. Right in the middle of the riots. I tried to get a taxi, but no one was picking up tonight.
We resolved to walk toward the hotel together. My bus was in that direction anyway, and others were in that direction as well. We knew the buses had been cancelled, but I hoped that if I could get far enough south there may still be a bus or two running. Either that or I could get a taxi.
The smell of burning rubber filled our lungs as we walked down the River Liffey toward O’Connell Street. We didn’t know the extent of it at the time, but the rioters had set several vehicles on fire, including at least two Garda cars, two double-decker buses, and a Luas train.
As we got closer to the hotel we saw police had formed a line on the other side of the Gratton Bridge. We now realised how far the riots had spread, and that we were right in the middle of them. The people staying in the hotel offered to take us in, but we were determined to cross the river.
Since there was a blockade we decided to move back to the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge. That was when we saw the mob marching across. Blockaded on one side, mob coming toward us on the other. We were trapped.
As the mob got to the other side of the bridge they started walking toward us. We were close to panic – three foreigners were in our group and some on Xitter had been saying there were people hunting immigrants.
We decided to see if we could get past the gardai. They were in the opposite direction of the crowd and they weren’t destroying the city, so it felt the safest option. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us pass and we had to turn around. We walked back, keeping our eyes on the rioters.
They weren’t coming down the Liffey towards us anymore. They’d obviously spotted the gardai and decided to continue to the center of town. People in our group started wandering in all directions. I stopped them and convinced them to wait for the bridge to be empty. We could cross once the mob was back in town.
The plan worked. We waited until we were confident they were far enough away and managed to cross to the south. There was no blockade – it seemed we had escaped the worst of it. As we kept moving south, a young drunk shouted something and moved toward us. We moved passed him quickly and he gave up.
After this I made sure the others knew to avoid eye contact if someone shouts or moves toward them. It turned out they didn’t, so I was glad to have brought it up. They wanted to try and cut through Temple Bar. Knowing it was a popular area I suggested we go further before we turn east. It turned out our choice had been made for us: Garda in riot gear were blocking the way to Temple Bar.
We walked far enough that we felt safe cutting across the city. We got to the road my bus takes and I said I’d start walking south. The others were worried I wouldn’t be safe, but I convinced them I’d be fine. Shops were still open here, which is a good sign.
I walked to the next bus stop and confirmed that the buses were cancelled. So I tried the taxis again. I was confident waiting for a while – walking home would take a few hours and there were no riots here. But no taxis seemed to want to take a fare that night. It’s understandable, but it meant I would have to walk. Before I put my phone away, I noticed a message from one of my co-workers. It said they were heading my way.
I spent the walk updating people on my progress. A lot of people on this road were walking south. It felt like a mass exodus of people fleeing the riots, though it was probably more just people got stuck with no public transport and, like myself, were forced to walk home.
After finding out I was walking home I got a call from one of my bosses. He asked me where I was and said he was coming to pick me up. He knew I lived far away and that it would take hours to get home. I walked a little further and waited for him in a Circle K petrol station on the other side of Rathmines.
After about a half hour I got picked up, and within 10 minutes I was home. I thanked my boss, and went back to my home. I took a minute to let everyone know I was okay, then fell unconscious.
The next day Xitter was full of posts declaring IrelandIsFull or IrelandForTheIrish. Many of the supporters had English flags in their profiles. The irony being that the only foreigners to do any real damage to the country are the English. Clearly that irony is lost on them.
The original victim, a six-year-old girl, is still in hospital. It’s since been revealed that she is from an immigrant family. He had already faced charges for possession of a knife and criminal damage. It’s possible his erratic behaviour could be attributed to mental health, although this is only speculation.
Conversations started about the lack of gardai presence in the city. People want a better police force to protect them from fascists and other criminals. Since the riots there have been at least two knife attacks in the city center, neither attributed to immigrants (so far). There were no more “protests” in response to these attacks.
On Monday there was a vigil held at the GPO to denounce violence in Dublin. To denounce the violence against the original victims, and to denounce the violence caused by the far right thugs who set O’Connell Street on fire.
I went there on my lunch break and saw a large crowd responding positively to a speaker condemning the rioters. Signs proclaimed Dublin Violence is not Dublin’s Voice, and volunteers handed out leaflets declaring we should fight fascism.
And we should. We can’t ignore this and hope that it goes away. There’s no turning the other cheek here. Because the fascists certainly won’t.