From Peace to Protest – Play Nicely, People

[By Róisín Curé in Dublin] I arrived in Dublin City on a Friday afternoon. I left Galway in windy winter weather but in Dublin there was a hint of spring.

“Where are you sketching today?” asked my brother Malachy, “it’s a lovely day.”

Malachy has been my comrade-in-arms since I started my second book, an illustrated memoir of Dublin in urban sketches. He has housed me, wined and dined me, advised me – he’s in the publishing area – and encouraged me since last September.

 I decided to sit outside for a while, and drew the beautiful Leinster House, where the government sits, and the National Museum, next door. That’s the bit you can see on the far right.

I love sketching in winter…if only they’d turn up the heat a bit. I’m one of those people whose hands go stiff and white if the temperature drops below semi-tropical, and many is the time I have stumbled into a café and made straight for the bathrooms, where I can run my hands under hot water for a while. Still, I knew the fabulous museum would fix me in jig time, so I persevered. It’s the colours I love – washed out and bleached, the stonework stark against the sky.

The next day I went back to sketch a Garda (that’s a policeman) outside the Dáil (that’s the word for the houses of parliament) but it was raining, so I popped indoors to sketch stuff in the museum. I love the gold jewellery, which glitters as if it was tooled only yesterday. It’s 4000 years old. It’s heavy, it’s solid, it’s beautiful. It’s a bit baffling too – I couldn’t work out half of what things were supposed to do, despite the comprehensive descriptions. The fractions I’ve written are in relation to the actual size of each piece, on an A5 sketchbook, so A4 on a double page.

That done, it looked as if it had stopped raining, and I might yet get my Guard. I went out and was greeted with quite a surprise: there was a proper fight unfolding outside on the street. With their backs to the Dáil were the pro-free-speech crowd: an anti-hate-speech bill was being brought in. They waved flags – Tricolours, and green ones with a horrible anglicised version of Irish on them that was popular in the 1940s or something (I cannot bear any anglicised Irish. Imagine if English was rewritten to accommodate French or Spanish people who couldn’t pronounce it…). They were on the Far Right, as I could make out – nationalists and so on. Facing them were the lefties: shouts of  “Nazi scum” were being hurled across the street from their side. It was very aggressive, and a two lines of Gardaí were keeping them apart. (I found out later that a Guard’s hand was injured.) The Beangardaí (policewomen) were there in force, but the two I saw were tiny. That didn’t mean they weren’t fierce. One, in riot gear, told a horrible man to get back onto the pavement. He was huge, and refused, so she gave him a good shove. He still squared up to her, so her big male colleague added a roared order to him too. He complied, like the bully he was.

The wide street between the two factions was empty – the no-man’s-land – and two kids took advantage of this, messing about on their scooters. They waved flags so I guessed they were with the Right. After a while one of the Left was arrested and put in a van, another van arrived and another Beangarda got out with a big alsatian, who was much scarier than my doodle suggests. Another dog didn’t get to leave the van, and its cries and whines clearly said “It’s not fair!”

I felt nothing but dislike for either side. This ugliness isn’t what we’re used to in Ireland – protest, sure, but two sides pitted against each other? Even in the hotly-debated and very emotional Eighth Amendment referendum (over abortion rights) each side was more or less civil when they met in public, even when they were using upsetting material to prove their points. No punches were thrown, and there were some great memes on Twitter.

Eventually the protest broke up, ending without a murmur. The two crowds made their way down towards Nassau Street, separated – I hope – by the Gardaí. I asked the Guards left if it was definitely over for the day, and started sketching them. One was a Beangarda (not in the pic). She told me she was an artist and rapidly listed her accomplishments.

“But I gave it up to join the Guards,” she said, “then again, I do both now.”

 I tried to tell her about Urban Sketchers Dublin but I couldn’t get a word in, and she didn’t want to know.

“Each to their own, isn’t that it?” she said. She has no idea what she has just missed.

She had perfect acrylic nails in a lilac colour.

I drew one young Guard – sketched twice – as he twisted his head constantly, watching the street where the protesters had gone. He seemed nervous, but I didn’t really notice that until his older colleague joined him – the older Guard had clearly seen it all before, and leaned against the side of the archway in a nonchalant manner. The younger Guard relaxed completely, all the tension leaving his body.

After that excitement I sketched in a very comfy hotel. Back tomorrow for more!

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