St Patrick’s Day in Dublin: ‘We didn’t think it would be as bad as this’

Ireland’s capital has never seen a St Patrick’s Day shutdown like it

Dublin has never seen a St Patrick’s Day quite like it.

At the appointed hour of 11am, when the parade traditionally moves off watched by crowds sometimes six deep on the pavements of O'Connell Street, all was still save for the low hum of a mechanical sweeper trundling along Lower Abbey Street.

Dublin has had to cancel St Patrick’s Day parades before, most recently in 2001 during the Foot and Mouth Disease scare, but that didn’t stop the pubs staying open.

Even when the pubs were shut, as they were for most of the 20th century because St Patrick’s Day was a holy day that fell during Lent, there was always the RDS Dog Show.

There the habitues of some of the city’s best known watering holes discovered their annual interest in pedigrees and dog breeding.

On this St Patrick’s Day, there was no pubs open, no dog show and everything was closed save a few chain fast food outlets and coffee shops – all performing a novel form of social distancing by cordoning off every second table.

Outside the GPO, driver Cillian McBradaigh waited for passengers for the open-top bus tour of Dublin.

St Patrick’s Day usually marks the start of the tourism season, but not this year.

“I had two passengers this morning, Canadians. Normally you’d be full this time of year,” he says. “Last year we were so busy we would have to say, ‘sorry guys, we are busy. There will be another one along in 10 to 15 minutes’.

"We are all Dublin Bus drivers. We are finishing up the tour side today. I'll go back to driving the 123. I'll still have a job."

The only people out and about on St Patrick's Day in Dublin wearing green were tourists – Irish people tend to give the big parade a wide berth anyway, though Rathmines resident Brien McEniff got admiring glances while he took his Great Dane Django for a walk wearing a green dicky-bow.

Many groups of tourists were wandering around like motherless foals scarcely believing that things had got so bad that even the Irish were shutting the pubs on St Patrick’s Day of all days.

It was supposed to be a surprise birthday party for Martin Simmons (60) from Dorset, England, who was born on St Patrick's Day. A group of 10 of them arrived in Dublin on Monday to celebrate his roundy birthday.

"It's a surprise alright," said his friend Ian Acton. "When we got here, we couldn't find food or drink or anything."

They were supposed to be doing the Guinness tour and were hoping against hope that their hotel would serve them later.

Outside O'Connell's pub on Bachelors Walk manager Declan Cummins handed out St Patrick's Day hats to passers-by seeing as he had no use for them otherwise.

His pub, which is 100m from O’Connell Bridge, is usually packed with tourists from 11am on the national holiday even though they don’t serve drink untl midday. This was his first St Patrick’s Day off in 36 years.

“I feel more sorry for you than I do for us. You can have a free hat, but no free beer,” he says.

Colin and Debbie Bood, from Wolverhampton in England, have been coming to Dublin's St Patrick's Festival for the last 15 years. March 17th is their wedding anniversary and it's also her Irish-born father's birthday.

They arrived in Dublin on Monday morning.

“We knew that the parade was off, but we didn’t know you couldn’t get a pint of Guinness,” she said. “We didn’t think it would be as bad as this.”

Colin continued: “It’s appearances that count. When you see all those masks, it starts to make you think, whereas in the UK you rarely see a mask.”

In Temple Bar, usually the epicentre of St Patrick's Day revelry, the only ones wandering about were a few gardaí wearing rubber gloves and tourists dressed in green who seemingly did not get the memo that Ireland is a no craic zone for the foreseeable future.

It will be American tourist Zach Meschke's 30th birthday on Friday. He and his girlfriend Miranda Polipnick have travelled to Ireland with eight friends, one of whom turns 30 today.

"We will be spending Zach's birthday isolating at home," said Polipnick. They face quarantine when they return to the United States on Wednesday.

"It could be worse. We could be scrambling to get a flight home," said Meschke. All the pubs are shut in his native Minnesota anyway, he adds.

The no craic zone has gone global.