Orange order march in Dublin: 'We might be in for some trouble'

Margaret Tracey came out of the café where she works on South Leinster St on the afternoon Saturday 25 February and looked up Nassau St. Her curiosity was aroused by the news that there was to be an Orange march happening outside Leinster House, and she wanted to hear what a Lambeg drum sounded like.

But there was not a Lambeg drum nor an Orange sash in sight. Instead, a horde of people, replete with tricolours, tracksuits and improvised weapons came travelling at speed down Nassau St from College Green. “I think,” she said to one of her colleagues, “that we might be in for some trouble.”
This was a splinter from the group that had assembled on O'Connell St to confront the Love Ulster march, which had been due to parade down O'Connell St. Before lunchtime, a row of riot police had assembled mid-way across O'Connell St. About 100 yards in front of them, towards the O'Connell Bridge end of the street, a barrier of railings was constructed, and behind that were a couple of hundred protesters, along with tourists and shoppers looking at what was going on.

There were many teenagers in the main body of protesters, with their faces covered with scarves, and tricolours on their shoulders. There were older men too, wearing leather jackets and jeans.

At first it was unclear where they were getting the rocks, stones and other objects which they were firing at the line of riot police. But then it became apparent from the railings scattered and bent about the street that they had broken into the building site in the middle of O'Connell St. Men of all ages threw objects at the riot police who stood there impassively as the rocks bounced off their shields and helmets. Beyond them were regular gardaí and civilians, and sometimes missiles would reach them too.

There were lulls in the violence, during which IRA chants could be heard. A cheer went up when a banner commemorating the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings was unfurled. There was an air of joviality among some of the protesters, particularly among the younger ones who seemed to be having a great time; the older ones looked angry. Road traffic signs were dismantled and thrown at the police. Sometimes, somebody towards the back of the group of protesters would attempt to throw a heavy object towards the police, but it would fall short, almost hitting some of the other protesters. Fire crackers were let off. Some of the protesters were drinking, others smoking hash. The contents of a wheelie ben was set on fire. A sudden hail of glass bottles flew towards the line of police.

Then a shout went up, “They're at Leinster House.” A group of about 100 set off south across O'Connell bridge. They rounded College Green and went down Nassau St. Kildare St was blocked by police and the crowd continued down towards Merrion Square. Shoppers looked on  as they smashed shop windows with iron bars, ripped up metal bollards and bins.

On Clare St, a man attempted to smash the glass front of a shop but his metal pole kept bouncing off the reinforced glass. A police line was visible near Merrion Square, but it was not moving. A car had been overturned and was set alight. One youth, with his face covered and wearing a red top, set about smashing the windows of the cars on the street. Along with a few other guys he seemed to be doing the most amount of damage.

As they were smashing in the windows of one car, a middle-aged woman ran over to them. “That's my car – leave it alone!” she said, and they shrank back and did as she asked. Another woman came out from a café and put out a car that was on fire. None of the protesters tried to stop her. Members of the media were not treated with such deference. Photographers were verbally abused, and one was attacked as he tried to retreat from the protesters. But the mood was lighter than on O'Connell St. The sense of anger and danger was not as strong.

A small group went up South Frederick St. Metal chairsfrom the Dunne and Crescenzi restaurant and hurled at the windows at the office of the Progressive Democrats. Then  the gardaí baton-charged the crowd, no resistance was given and they moved further towards College Green and disbursed around town.

There were further confrontations on the quays, where police were pushing a crowd of youths away from O'Connell St. Drinkers in Temple Bar gawked in disbelief at what was going on. Shop staff  rushed to pull down their shutters. One man was arrested on Aston Quay. He lay on the glass-strewn tarmac with gardaí with their knees on his back.

Across the river, gangs of teenagers ran around the streets off Henry St as the mood of the protesters became giddy. A group of about about 20 rounded the corner at Supermacs on  O'Connell St and ran down Abbey St laughing. Shortly afterwards about 30 gardaí followed them. Some of the bean gardaí looked blatantly unfit and were having trouble keeping up.