Trouble on streets of Dublin: Anatomy of a night that went wrong

For second night, convivial socialising in the city centre is swiftly overtaken by disorder

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day and by the early evening there were more than 100,000 people socialising in Dublin city centre.

However, for the second night in a row, conviviality was swiftly overtaken by scenes of violence and multiple arrests as small groups of youths clashed with gardaí, with bottles thrown at officers.

This is not the “outdoor summer” many had envisaged.

So how and why did trouble start?


From early on Saturday evening there was a notable but discreet Garda presence in the city. Many businesses around South William Street, an area which drew large crowds on Friday night, closed early, citing staff safety concerns.

At St Stephen’s Green Garda vehicles pulled up shortly before 6pm with officers taking up position at the entrances. Shortly afterwards two young males carrying plastic bags filled with cans were denied entry to the Green, along with others as it quickly became clear that gardaí were trying to manage the number of people in the park.

Inside many people were quietly enjoying the sunshine.

There was also another more volatile crowd of youths who assembled quickly in difference parts of the city, taking over entire areas to have chaotic parties.

Stephen’s Green

One of these areas was in Stephen’s Green.

Music was booming from near the park’s shuttered bandstand where more than 100 youths were packed tightly together despite there being plenty of space around them.

Ambulance staff and three Garda public order unit vehicles, as well as a number of gardaí, looked on from a distance for a while.

This crowd was chanting – “Oggy! Oggy! Oggy!” – and jumping, which drew it tighter together.

As the noise and exuberance rose gardaí decided to move in, at about 6.15pm. They cleared everyone from this particular area of the Green, including those sipping smoothies on picnic blankets nearby.

The youths from the bandstand splintered throughout the park, but the message spread rapidly and could be easily overheard: “Temple Bar next.”

As this was happening, elsewhere in the city there was a relaxed, feel-good Saturday night atmosphere on the side roads off Grafton Street and George’s Street.

Near to pubs some people listened to music through portable speakers, while a busker on Dame Court drew a small but enthusiastic audience.

Some of these areas were relatively busy, but the drinkers generally appeared to stick to their own small groups and make some effort to socially distance.

People joined orderly queues for takeaway pints and the newly installed portable toilets.

Some bantered with the toilet attendants and gardaí who watched from the sidelines

Temple Bar

Early on Saturday Temple Bar was relatively quiet with only a handful of people outside the Temple Bar Pub drinking pints and cocktails.

But from about 7pm hundreds of young people gathered down the lane in Temple Bar Square where businesses were primarily shuttered. Two male youths scaled a building, performing sit-ups and stunts atop the roof of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, exciting the shouting crowd below.

At 7.20pm a Garda van arrived and the Square was quickly drained of people. A handful of the scarpering youths hurled glass bottles at the vehicle, with passersby forced to duck out of the way of the missiles.

South William Street

Up until about 8pm South William Street too had been quiet, home to mainly small groups of casual drinkers, while a couple of gardaí surveyed the street from outside Grogan’s Castle Lounge which was shut.

Within 20 minutes the atmosphere on this street had darkened. Large swathes of youths – many recognisable from Temple Bar Square – swarmed in quickly overwhelming those who had been on the street. Many of those who had been drinking on the street quickly left.

In tandem with the sudden arrival of the youths on South William Street, the Garda presence grew swiftly as the younger, more rowdy group took over the steps of Powerscourt Townhouse Centre and surrounds for an impromptu party.

Boom boxes were deployed, youths climbed on to pillars, others on to the boot of a car driving through, as well as on to bins and a business’s sign to dance and perform for their friends and the masses who were videoing below.

A recycling bin was set on fire in the middle of it all with young males every so often lifting the lid to pour in more alcohol.

When members of the public order unit lined up nearby, some of the crowd began to dissipate.

But a small number of mainly young males stood their ground for longer, dancing on the steps of the centre, eyeballing the gardaí.

Then the public order unit moved en masse along South William Street, forcing everyone to clear the area. Some youths threw bottles and other items over the heads of other young people directly at gardaí.

South Anne Street

From this point access to many of the surrounding streets was restricted and cleared of people. Groups of gardaí moved on from South William Street to empty Exchequer Street then Grafton Street and Clarendon Street where many had been enjoying much quieter drinks.

Some people expressed anger and frustration at being told to leave. “Outdoor summer!” exclaimed one woman loudly on South King Street as a gardaí poured her friend’s drink down the drain.

A garda moving people on told this newspaper the centre of the city was being “closed for the night . . . The best thing people can do is go home.”

In a statement a Garda spokesman said members later came “under fire” from bottles and other missiles on South Anne Street from a group of approximately 200 youths at about 9pm.

“Gardaí deployed ‘soft cap’ public order units with shields and dispersed crowds along South Anne Street and Dawson Street,” he said.

The force was dealing with an “organised group” of youths engaged in “persistent anti-social behaviour and public disorder” in the city centre, added the spokesman.

Gardaí arrested 19 people, including two juveniles, on Saturday evening for alleged public order offences.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter