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Paddy's Day a sobering experience as virus shuts down city's streets

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A deserted O’Connell Street at 11.30am yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

A deserted O’Connell Street at 11.30am yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

A deserted O’Connell Street at 11.30am yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

No beer, no cheer, no wine, no song. Dublin city was the Paddy Celeste - quiet and eerie.

The few people who were out and about were looking around in bewilderment, wondering what was not going on.

Covid-19 had put paid to the Paddy's Day celebrations, and if the man said to have chased the snakes out of Ireland was around he'd probably have been tasked with trying to flatten the coronavirus curve by chasing people off the streets.

In Parnell Square, the traditional starting point of the festivities, there were no costumes, no floats and no massive Macnas serpents or dragons being readied for action.

One or two people were out for a stroll, observing social distancing of course.

On O'Connell Street, which would usually be lined with thousands of people, there was emptiness.

Shuttered bars and shops formed the flat backdrop on the stage where this no-act play was not being performed.

And at the GPO, where Michael D and Leo might ordinarily have waved at passing marching bands, there were a few gardai chatting to tourists.

On O'Connell Bridge, the first reveller could be seen. Russian visitor Aleksei Wishtibeew (45) was taking selfies with the Liffey in the background.

"Did they dye it green?"

No, it's always that colour.

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Wolfgang Ramsweailer and Christian Ruhl from Frankfurt on O’Connell St. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Wolfgang Ramsweailer and Christian Ruhl from Frankfurt on O’Connell St. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Wolfgang Ramsweailer and Christian Ruhl from Frankfurt on O’Connell St. Photo: Steve Humphreys

He was wearing his leprechaun hat and beard with pride.

Strange

"It's a strange time but part of my heart is green, so I am doing my own parade on my own from O'Connell Street to O'Connell Bridge, to Temple Bar and the Ha'penny Bridge," he said.

"I've been here seven times since 2014 and year by year I have fallen in love with this country and its people.

"I arrived on March 12 and the pubs were still open. I feel sad that they are closed but I understand why.

"I will still be celebrating the holiday in my mind and in my heart, if not in the street."

Also on O'Connell Bridge were Tracey Courage and her daughters Rachael and Lauren, and granddaughter Isabella.

"We've come over from Cornwall. We got a good deal, and the fact that the pubs are closed doesn't bother us because we wouldn't be drinking anyway," Tracey said, pointing down to Isabella in her buggy.

So what would they do with their day? "A bit of sightseeing, and maybe a trip to Ikea."

The parade would usually snake through College Green and on to Dame Street, with traffic restrictions diverting cars well away from the area. But there were no traffic restrictions yesterday, in fact there was no traffic.

Conscious that they had to close, but also aware of their responsibility to provide some Irish atmosphere, the owners of the Trinity Pub on Dame Street had come up with a good plan.

Tunes

Their doors were closed, but they were piping Irish music onto the street through speakers.

"Sorry we are closed. Happy St Patrick's Day. Enjoy the tunes," said a sign in the window.

Alejandro and Sonia Jiminez, from Lisbon, were passing by, Alejandro with a leprechaun hat and a green dickie-bow on.

"We were booked in advance to come here. At least we can walk around," he said.

Sonia said: "We had come for the parade and atmosphere, and for the kids to experience it too. We are not disappointed. The cafes and parks are open."

On Dame Street gardai in two patrol cars and an SUV searched in vain for traffic to police, and at Dublin Castle, usually a place where throngs of revellers gather, there was only the odd pedestrian.

Not only was the Paddy's Day parade cancelled, it was cancelled in perfect parade weather. How many years have we suffered hypothermia standing on a freezing corner for hours?

For those that stayed at home, a call went out on the bush telegraph to decorate windows to brighten the streets, and children used up all their green and orange paints, pens and crayons making flags and banners while anxious parents grabbed a much-needed mug of coffee, or something stronger.

Meanwhile, outside of Dublin, not even a virus pandemic was going to stop enterprising Irish families from wearing the green to proudly mark St Patrick's Day.

Cork city centre restaurant Soho went a step further by flying large Irish and Italian flags side by side as a gesture of Covid-19 solidarity between the two countries.

The smallest St Patrick's Day parade went ahead in Limerick with strict social distancing observed.

Lone piper Paul McMahon marched around the Park Gardens estate in Corbally to keep an 18-year parade tradition alive.

Fermoy International Choir used camera phones and social media to broadcast a special Irish anthem which it had hoped to perform at the local St Patrick's Day parade.

The University of Limerick decided to adopt a 'virtual' celebration to mark St Patrick's Day.

In Kerry, where the St Patrick's Day events are traditionally lavish, it was eerily quiet.

Dingle cancelled its famous pre-dawn parade - a tradition dating back to the 1870s when Crown Forces banned daylight gatherings in the Kingdom at the height of the Land War.

In Waterford - the first city to make St Patrick's Day a public holiday in 1903 - a special link was offered on the parade social media page so people could compare their home-based celebrations.