Optimism in Dublin as end of latest Covid-19 lockdown comes into sight
But for the face masks and shuttered shops, it could be any other May bank holiday weekend
Liam Jones with his artwork at the Merrion Square open-air art gallery. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times
Anna Kavanagh and Tia Doyle. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times
Joe Hayes at the horse and cart stand on St Stephen’s Green. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times
It is Sunday afternoon and Dublin looks almost normal, with hundreds of people strolling Grafton Street and good-natured queues forming at the ice cream parlour near St Stephen’s Green.
If it wasn’t for the face masks and the shuttered shops, it could be any other May bank holiday weekend.
On a footpath running alongside one side of the Green, a lonely looking busker aptly plays The Lonesome Boatman by Finbar Furey on a battered clarinet to an audience of none.
“I don’t think I should tell you my name because I am breaking the rules by being here,” he says sheepishly. “I’m not so bothered by the guards, they’re grand, but the council have employed all these special fellas and they move us along pretty quickly.”
It is only his second day back on the road again and takings are pretty meagre.
“It’s not the best spot but sure what can I do?”
At the top of Grafton Street Zorro the horse is restless. He is attached to an ornate white carriage, one of many that used to be kept busy with tourists in pre-Covid times.
“It’s been hard these past few months,” Zorro’s owner, Joe Hayes from the Liberties, says with a sigh. “I’ve to pay for the feed and the rent for the stable on Chicken Lane in Stoneybatter, but there has no money coming in since before Christmas.”
It is Zorro’s first public outing since December, although he has been kept busy. “If you don’t exercise him he’ll get awful fresh, so he will,” Hayes explains.
“I’ve had two customers so far today. But you’d really miss the Americans. I hope things are coming to an end, it would give you a headache so it would.”
As he talks four people climb into the carriage and Zorro is away.
Stephen’s Green is bathed in sunlight but black clouds loom large on the horizon. It is busy but not uncomfortably so, and people walk the little paths with a spring in their step, many carrying take-out beers from nearby pubs.
“I am usually studying,” Kavanagh says. “And I am usually at home. I haven’t been to a single lesson since I started first year so it hasn’t been great, I am not going to lie to you.
“I was getting ready for the Leaving before all this hit and I was looking forward to university where I’d be free. It’s the complete opposite of that now.”
Rosie Bergin is lounging on the grass nearby reading The Baby Snatchers. The Mary Creighton book documents the horrors of life in a mother and baby home, but, despite the grimness of her reading material, Bergin is in flying form.
“It’s great to come out and get a bit of fresh air and to see the sun shining,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve walked through town for such a long time. It felt like a different country, to be honest.”
A suitable social distance from Bergin sits Aoife Moynihan and her two girls Orla and Eilis. She has travelled up from Mullingar on an essential journey and is similarly upbeat.
“I’d be very optimistic about the days ahead,” she says. “I really hope we are through the worst of it, my parents got their first jab this week so that was brilliant.”
He says he has missed what he calls his “soft acquaintances” during the third and longest lockdown.
“I had my first jab last weekend out in CityWest and everything. I loved it, it was like a real day out after spending so many months confined to my studio. I’m completely optimistic now,” he says.