Dublin City isn’t Dublin City when you’re walking her streets at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. She is hung over, always. There are homeless people still in their sleeping bags on every couple of streets. And broken glass that revellers smashed the night before and that the council haven’t cleaned up yet litters the pavement. There are jetlagged tourists wondering past shops that haven’t opened yet, and there are students and gym bunnies and shopkeepers on their way to their respective destinations. It’s a cold place, in its heart, barren but also rich in urban truths amid the grand buildings of Victorian redbrick and colonial Athenian-inspired grandeur.
At nine o’clock doors start to open. Shops let in the weary and bleary eyed. The scent of coffee and baked goods wafting through the streets marks the shift change as the homeless are evicted from their doorways and forced to wander seeking alms while the tourists settle into cafes and gift shops. The gulls and pigeons begin their investigations of bins and food waste left on the streets. Their window short, before the street sweepers gobble up scraps and crusts with their insatiable mechanical mouths.
By ten o’clock it’s business as usual. City dwellers and suburbanites alike are mingling with the tourists and the homeless settle down to beg for change or slump into escapism in small groups of three or four, their fixes fixed and life put upon them for another day. Fancy horse drawn carts clatter around Stephens Green as Luas trams and coaches and blue and yellow double-decker busses ferry shoppers and visitors and sports fans and partygoers into the streets until the pavement is awash with faces and umbrellas.
By dinnertime there are already drunkards on the street and it’s rained at least twice. Smaller shops close and the large ones throng in the last spasms of the daily money grab while the eateries fill with a mix of all the peoples of earth. The days of an isolated Ireland are nowhere to be seen in the kaleidoscopic range of faces and accents that sit side by side in restaurants and bars. Dublin readies for her nightly ritual.
By nightfall it begins. Sporting events charge the air while hen and stag parties rev up. The streets clear of shoppers and the night belongs to alcohol. Most are happy and it’s rare to see trouble in the early hours of the night. At worst, friends bundle friends who are the worse for wear into hungry taxi cabs. Then the greater fools want for manners and there is vomit and there is urine and there is shouting and there are bloodied noses and there is crying and there are the flashing blue lights of the last voice of reason on the street.
Sleeping bags stuffed with broken lives reappear like moss. The pubs shut. Taxis multiply into their hundreds and for an hour busses and taxi engage in a feeding frenzy to see who can gobble up the most customers before there’s nothing left. Then the city belongs to no one. For those few hours between five and eight o’clock only the very early risers, the shift workers and the insanely energetic joggers are out, shuffling and jogging past the homeless as they try to get what little rest they can before the shops open. Dublin is in limbo and wild and free again. She is as she was centuries ago, void of the neon poison of modern man. On occasion foxes roam.