17 March 2013

Ain't no pride on Dame Street

Crowds so sparse you could occupy the plaza with a tent village and still have room to spare
Dame St, Dublin, March 17th, 2013

Patrick's Day is always an odd one. Like Halloween and the Oirish Theme Pub, it is something allegedly Irish in origin that seems to have been adopted abroad, perverted beyond all recognition then, for reasons unfathomable, imported back in to Ireland and assimilated in to our national psyche. Like a virus altering our DNA, this theatre of the absurd becomes accepted as cultural reality.

Curiosity (and a vantage point elevated, heated and dry) brought me in to town today to witness my second parade on Dame Street in as many years.

Curiosity, it would seem, is the midwife of extreme cynicism.

The Dublin parade, for those of us old enough to remember Millennium milk bottles, used to consist of a few freezing American marching bands and a million ATA Security floats with thread-bare and royalty-free knock-offs of Disney cartoon characters waving at the shivering crowds. Then, for a brief moment it was handed over to Macnas and coolness ensued, with night-time parades on Paddy's Eve and a weekend of festivities and fireworks. Foot and Mouth came and banished the parade to the summer and we all said, "Hey, why couldn't we do this every year?" and the marketeers at Diageo scratched their beards and said, 'hmmn, a drunken day of debauchery later in the year? Very interesting, very interesting indeed". Then the Celtic Tiger arrived and with the regeneration of the docklands the fireworks were all cancelled for fear of blowing out the windows of all those never-to-be-occupied cathedrals to greed, Macnas were sent packing back to Galway and everything headed south again rapidly.

A parade so devoid of meaning it even summoned its own Fail Whale
Dame St, Dublin, March 17th, 2013

If you go down the country, every town has its own parade, organised by and for the local community. The parades celebrate each town's heritage while often casting a caustic eye over recent local and national events with the community's concerns expressed through the medium of satirical floats. Bailouts, bankers and horsemeat were all on the agenda today beyond the Pale, but here in our nation's capital the sanitised Parade is run not for the locals nor the onlooking tourists whose money we already have, it is run instead for those who are yet to come. It exists as bait for next year's desperate attempt to fleece money from a new crop of unsuspecting foreigners, lured in by the Temple Bar myth of Ireland as Tír na Ceol agus Craic. Anything that could spoil this stage-managed photo-shoot for the Bord Fáilte website is banished, by excessive force if necessary. 

Last year it was #occupydamestreet, evicted from their home just days before the parade so no cameras would see signs of public dissent. This year it was a proposed Trade Union float celebrating the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, branded inappropriate by the Parade and banned, judging it "not in keeping" with this year's Gabriel Byrne-pleasing theme of "The Gathering". We had Steampunk submarines, rockets and bathtubs, a cage-dancing monkey and Arctic explorers with their very own fail whale, but apparently no room for Big Jim Larkin in this Frankenstein's Monster of a parade.

Because he didn't fit in with the theme.

Sure, ye don't want to be scaring away next year's Americans with tales of Socialist triumphs, now do ye?

I think this was celebrating Emigration, the only export that's on the way up
Dame St, Dublin, March 17th, 2013

As the American marching bands trooped past, their big brass sounds called to mind Treme, the HBO show that tells the life of post-Katrina New Orleans, and in particular the trombone-wielding Antoine Batiste. Perpetually down on his luck and trying to rebuild his life after the floodwaters wiped away all that he had, he hustles from gig to gig, trying to pay his bills without sacrificing his dignity. When money runs tight, he ends up playing mass-market standards to drunken frat boys and bead-waving tourists in Mardi Gras-themed bars in New Orleans' plastic-Disney-hellhole, Rue du Bourbon, or Bourbon Street. As he tells a friend of his fall from grace, the reply comes, "There's still pride on Bourbon Street". Stay true to yourself, true to your culture and even if your audience are barbarians you can still feel good about what you do.

Paddy's Day has always been our day of national shame, where we pimp ourselves out to the wider world and drink ourselves senseless to forget what we have done. Each year our clothes get a bit more worn, our make-up visibly cheaper, and it's getting harder and harder to mask the emptiness in our hollow eyes. With our Tiger wallets bulging we could laugh uncomfortably and call it "Kitsch", but with our children's futures sold to pay the Troika none of us are smiling now. Save the drunken teens whose antics will no doubt be tomorrow's Red Top fodder, we all stayed away today. Even our Government fled, with nineteen of our finest Ministers hiding away from New York to New Zealand, India, Singapore, Dubai and the Philippines. Everywhere, it seems, except Dame Street.

The meeja say the weather "dampened our enthusiasm", but the truth is we can no longer look each other in the eye as we whore ourselves away. We just want it to be over as quickly as possible so we can try and wash the bitter taste away in the bottom of a pint glass, and forget we ever had pride in ourselves.

Drink all we like, the shame won't go.

There ain't no pride on Dame Street.

Update: 18/03/13
Doing a trawl for some pics of the old ATA floats, I found a Flickr set by catb that includes a few Dame Street pics of the 1988 Dublin Millenium Paddy's Day Parade. The parade pics start here. Floral constructions were pretty big in the 80s.

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At 1:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ATA security.. i'll never forget it. used to feel like half the parade was their floats.

did you see the giant jumper?

At 1:59 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Went looking for old pics of the ATA floats, and couldn't find too many. This was, of course, i the days before digital cameras. Still, given the number of floats and their 20+ years of running them you'd think there would be a few more photos up online. I did indeed see the giant Crimbo jumper, are we now honouring the 12 Pubs of Christmas in our national parade?


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