We have lots of time to perfect our protests

Mon, Nov 29, 2010, 00:00

The problem with being part of the Irish mob at the moment is that you don’t know where to march to

I DO love an Irish crowd. On Wednesday the Bank of Ireland sold off its art collection. I rather thought I’d get a bargain, with the country in the state it’s in. I thought the Seán Keating self-portrait would provide a nice talking point on the wall behind the living room door. I thought the Gerard Dillon etching might liven up the hall. I got a paddle with a number on it.

Prices were high. Old ladies in sensible shoes sat with the catalogue, carefully recording the noughts and having the time of their lives – definitely a pastime to be noted for your twilight years, or indeed just for twilight generally. There are surely a lot of auctions to come.

It did feel rather reassuring to be sitting amongst so much money. The crowd was comprised of men in suits but also of ladies in suits and people dressed in what could be called Middle Class Scruff: a sort of antiques dealer/journalist look which I myself espouse. Indeed it is a look which will take you anywhere.

On Wednesday the bids were flying, and we were rubbernecking until our shoulders were sore. Louis Le Brocquy’s Study Towards An Image of James Joycefetched over €50,000. That was lot 58.

Before that lot 52, a Camille Souter still life Blue Bottle and Apples– quite beautiful – sold for €14,000. There was a little silence after the bidding stopped as the crowd drew its breath and thought about how much of this money would reach the artist Camille Souter. The lady sitting beside me turned from her catalogue for the first time that evening and said to her companion: “She used to live in Bray.”

Similarly, last Saturday, as we stood looking at the huge screen over the podium at the GPO in O’Connell Street, we could see the speakers waiting there to address us. “

There’s what’s-his-name O’Toole,” said a man behind me mildly. “It’ll be his spiel next.”

The only surprise of the day came when Jack O’Connor, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, came to address the crowd. Patches of boo-ing broke out. A friend of mine, standing towards the north side of the O’Connell Street crowd – which ended at the imaginary line between Funland on one side of the street and McDowell’s Happy Ring House on the other – heard men shouting “how much do you earn, Jack?”

Surely the best moment in any horror film is when the mob goes to the castle. It has always been my favourite. Torches burning, pitchforks quivering, off the mob goes to demand the head of the monster. Or something similar.

The aristocratic landlord is smoking a cigarette beside a roaring log fire, dressed in evening clothes, his hair slicked with brilliantine. He is either an evil coward or the fearless face of science.

His girlfriend is wearing oyster satin, and her life expectancy is now in single figures: if the monster doesn’t get her then the mob certainly will. The aristocratic landlord comes to stand in the doorway of the castle as the mob sweeps over the moat and fills the courtyard with its primitive cries.

The problem with being part of the Irish mob at the moment is that you don’t know where to march to.

Will we just march everywhere? We’re ready to go. We’re angry enough. There are plenty of us. But there is no one in the GPO of a Saturday. Or in the Dáil either.

Although last Saturday’s march was treated in advance as if it was going to be something wild, in fact it was a huge collection of middle-aged people in weatherproof clothing. You were hard put to find anyone under 40, let alone under 30.

Those whose business it is to read the Irish psyche were not intimidated by it. Clery’s was delivering furniture at 8.30am on Saturday morning, presumably to avoid later traffic diversions. But it stayed open throughout the march as far as I could see. “It’s business as usual as far as we’re concerned,” said Stephen Keating, Clery’s retail facilities manager.

Together we looked out at the respectable crowd. Personally I have felt more threatened by Christmas shoppers. Clery’s contract with the people will never falter. Penney’s was open as well, Mr Keating said. Even McDowell’s Happy Ring House stayed open.

Some friends were determined to come to Dublin from Mayo to march; some friends came with their children and grandchildren and home-made placards. “You have ruined Ireland” being particularly clear, I thought.

And other friends, quite a few of whom are lefties, would not come because they were so fed up with the trades unions.

The placards were lacklustre, in the main. The best were quotes from Father Ted.There was the classic “Down With This Sort Of Thing”. But the second Father Tedquote was spoiled by being misspelled. “That Would Be An Ecuminical Matter” is a bit short on authority.

In the middle of the Liffey a currach contained three men with congress banners which read “There Is A Better Way”. The image was only slightly undermined by the fact that the man rowing the currach was wearing a balaclava. He rowed it a good distance, as a matter of fact. The currach headed upstream in the freezing cold.

We have plenty of time to perfect our protests.