It is after midnight and I am writing in the dark. A few hours after the dreadful events in Dublin, nobody really knows anything. Except that there was an appalling act of violence in Parnell Square and that, instead of doing the decent thing and waiting to absorb the pain of our fellow human beings, some organised factions of the far right decided that this was their time to shine.
A long knife taken to the tiny bodies of little children? Fantastic, they must have thought, let’s strut our stuff. Let’s make central Dublin our catwalk. Are we not men? Do we not look cool in our balaclavas?
Male narcissists everywhere, one with a long knife, others with petrol bombs. What is it they want to say? Look at me! I am important. I matter because I can stab and burn and make everybody else feel the seasick, dizzying sensation of being in a world without pity or rationality. Suck it up. Look at me!
At this time of writing, I have no idea what could have motivated someone to wait outside a primary school for the right time to swoop on little kids and try to butcher them. And, to be honest, I don’t want to know.
It is not sane to enter into that insanity. To lead half-bearable lives, we must keep our bearings. We must remember that, while humanity is capable of the worst atrocities, it is not defined by them. We are – really – better than this.
And we’re better than the scumbags who see such horror and think: Yes! Oh, look, here’s an opportunity. Isn’t it great that those kids got stabbed because now we have an opening?
Good on the maniac. He is the warm-up act for our show. The overture is an act of unspeakable terror. But here we come, prancing on to the stage: we are the opera! We are the real event!
For them it is probably a pity that the attacker was not sadistic enough. The worse the better – more blood, more outrage, more savagery to set our brains reeling and drive us all so astray in the head that we would think that fascism was the answer.
But: screw them. These pitiful thugs are not us. They do not act for us or speak for us or burn buses for us. We are not so stupid as to allow ourselves to be exploited and manipulated by people whose sense of humanity has shrunk so drastically that they see a vile assault on little kids as their moment in the sun. And their moment to loot a pair of high-end trainers while still feeling righteous and seeing themselves, in some weird hall of mirrors, as Irish patriots.
Don’t look at the maniac who attacked the children. Don’t look at the goons who want to surf on his grotesque madness to preen themselves on social media as if they are historical players and shapers of the destiny of the nation.
Look, rather, at the so-called ordinary people. Think of who is “us” here. Who acted on the deep instincts of Irish – and human – civilisation? Who, before conscious thought was possible, represented who we are?
Even if we do not yet know what really happened in Parnell Square, we know enough to be certain of the answer to these questions. The people who acted for the vast majority of us were those who, without time to think or plan or reckon, risked their own lives to try to protect those kids.
This is where we should direct our gaze: to the childcare worker who, in that moment of overwhelming shock, put herself between the attacker and a little girl he was assaulting. To the random women and men who just happened to be on that street at that time and who rushed, without calculation or reflection, to put themselves in peril for no other reason than that children they did not know needed protection.
It probably occurs to all of us at some stage to wonder: how would I react in this kind of situation, when there is nothing to go on except some deep, usually unconscious, sense of who I am? I know I often fear that I would chicken out and find some discreet way to veer away from what is happening and take the safe way out.
But in this crucible, in this testing moment when push came to shove, people on the streets of Dublin reacted instinctively with courage, compassion and steely competence. They saw an overwhelming vileness unfolding in real time, second by second, and they did not recoil or retreat. They stepped up and stepped in.
So, again: screw the narcissists. Screw their vanity and their self-regard and their contemptible attempts to exploit a national trauma in order to parade their own self-regard and maybe get a pair of branded shoes from Foot Locker while they’re at it.
We know who we are. We know what the deep-seated, often silent, reflexes of most Irish people really are. It should not take such harrowing incidents to bring them to the surface. But amidst our distress there is some consolation in knowing that those instincts are still sharply honed.
The anguish and the anxiety go deep, and this moment will not be easily erased. But we have seen that some things go much deeper: including the love that impels us to risk our lives for one another. That is where our republic lives.