'The first thing I saw was a guy punch a girl in the face'
What really happened in the Phoenix Park last weekend? We detail the events that marked a new low in Ireland’s relationship with drink, drugs and casual violence
FROM EARLY morning, Dublin’s Phoenix Park was thronged with cyclists, runners and families visiting the zoo.
Last Saturday dawned clear and sunny, a rare good day in a damp summer and a welcome contrast to the deluge of the night before.
It seemed like an ordinary summer day, except for the groups of young people who started arriving at about mid-morning.
The five-act gig headlined by Swedish House Mafia wasn’t due to start in the park until mid-afternoon but the first fans were already on the move.
They came toting carrier bags filled with drink cans and bottles; many had already broken into their stash and were discarding the empties.
Residents by the North Circular Road entrance to the park reported groups of youths pushing supermarket trolleys filled with drink. Over at the Chapelizod gate, gangs of youths started passing through the village from 11am, according to Cathy Norris, secretary of the local Tidy Towns committee.
Many tried to access the park by the pedestrian turnstile but became frustrated when they found it boarded up. Most were drinking and smashed their bottles against hall doors and garden walls when they were empty. Just one member of the Garda was on duty in the village, she says.
North of the park, the Halfway House pub on the Navan Road was doing a good trade, having erected a tent in order to sell drink in its car-park. It was selling cans of beer and cider for €2.50.
At the main gate to the park, on Chesterfield Avenue, four gardaí were stationed to oversee the arrival of thousands of concert-goers disgorged from shuttle buses from the city centre, which started operating at about 2pm.
Other fans arrived on foot up the quays, drinking naggins of vodka or transferring alcohol into plastic bottles before the security checks. The steps of the Criminal Courts complex nearby couldn’t be seen because of the surfeit of bottles.
Paul McQuaid, who runs the bike-rental shop at this entrance to the park, says he had never seen so many underage drinkers in his life. The kids coming off the buses were “lorrying into” full bottles of wine and vodka before they were confiscated, he says.
Large bins put in place to collect the empties were full long before the gig even started.
With the gates to the gig due to open at 3pm, the atmosphere across the park had already turned nasty. Fights started breaking out, while other young people passed out from their excesses.
Small children were pushed off their bicycles and drugs were being openly touted. Hopelessly outnumbered, the small number of gardaí on duty could do little to control events.
The gig was sold out, all 45,000 tickets, but it was clear that many young people had come without tickets. Some may have wanted to stay drinking in the park; others may have intended crashing the event.