‘It’s like 28 Days Later’: Coronavirus turns Dublin into a ghost town

A Luas set off for Cabra with just three passengers, two of them in surgical masks

After recent coronavirus restrictions only a handful of retail outlets are now open on Ireland's premier shopping street, Grafton Street, Dublin. Conor Pope takes a walk from St Stephen's Green to College Green. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

In the words of Dublin Saunter, a stroll in the sun in St Stephen’s Green can be heaven. On Wednesday, the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far, it was deserted.

The birds had the ponds, the grass and paths to themselves. The handful of people who had come through the wrought-iron gates sat alone on benches, staring stony-faced at flowers newly in bloom.

A Grafton Street jeweller had been stripped of its window displays by staff anxious to protect valuables. The clothes shop next door was boarded up, as if prepared for a hurricane.

Many pubs were not just closed, but shuttered, too. A Luas set off for Cabra with just three passengers. Two wore surgical masks. The driver wore bright yellow rubber gloves. In any other time it would have been comical.

A small group of young men approached the gates of the green, their voices among the only to be heard. “This is what the zombie apocalypse must be like,” one said loudly.

Following Leo Varadkar’s Tuesday restrictions, most people seemed to have heeded the Taoiseach’s plea to “stay home if at all possible”.

An empty O’Connell Street. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
An empty O’Connell Street. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Leaning on his cane, an older man who identified himself as Kevin O’Malley said, from a distance of more than 2m, “It’s a different world now”.

“Do you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a film I saw more than 50 years ago. On the Beach, it was called,” he said, referring to a 1950s post-apocalyptic film starring Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire.

“There is a scene in the film when the crew of a submarine come to the surface after the nuclear war and when they look around there is just nothing there. That’s what I am reminded of today.

“I suppose the real worry is how long will it all last. But you know what, we will get through this, of course we will. This country is nothing if not resilient.”

Cigarette trade

Some shops remained open. Mark Halligan was at work in one of them, the Bus Stop newsagent at the top of Grafton Street. He was in the shop alone, dispensing coffee, selling newspapers and face masks.

“What people want to buy mainly are cigarettes,” he said. “They are coming in and buying hundreds of them. I don’t know why really. We are going to stay open. It’s like the film 28 Days Later, isn’t it?”

A homeless man, Michael, came into the shop. Asked how he was getting on, he told of how the pattern of his day on the streets had changed.

“Every morning I would get up at 7.30 and get a cup of coffee in Starbucks. I can’t do that now, it’s closed. Everything is closed. There is nothing open and nothing for me to do and no one for me to talk to.

“I’ve been on the streets for more than four years and I had a routine,” he said, “Now I am just trying to figure out the days ahead and how I will get by.”