The U2 Riot, Dublin, 29 June 1985

The U2 Riot, Dublin, 29 June 1985

Photo: Facebook/Classic Dublin Gigs/Noel M

Doherty and Quirke went into Dublin for a street carnival i.e. a day on the beer. U2 played in the country’s biggest stadium Croke Park for the first time that evening, to add to the hype. Having a drink that night in the Berni Inn – long since Judge Roy Bean’s, across from Trinity – Quirke met a chap from home who’d taken a few punches after the concert, when one or more gougers snatched his U2 hat and he tried to get it back.

After midnight, Doherty and Quirke headed up towards St. Stephen’s Green, expecting a mere open air disco, as also advertised. There were thousands and thousands walking in the city but by then the fighting had started. There was a riot underway on Grafton Street. Police with riot shields were baton-charging this way and that. A wave of panic and confusion spread through the crowd every time they moved. Those not at the front could only see the crowd coming back on top of them and this only added to the fear. A saving grace was that the police did not lash out indiscriminately in response to those who were firing bottles. There were so many people that few knew what was going on. Gangs of young men were emerging from the side streets to attack before retreating again. It was chaos, confusing and frightening. Doherty saw a cop get a bottle stuck in his face. The sheer number of people in the way prevented the police getting at those who were pelting them.

The boys nonetheless kept moving towards the Green to see what was happening up there. They kept well to the side and passed by the waves. At the top of Grafton Street the whole area around that corner of the Green was covered in broken glass. There was nothing on but there the situation was relatively quiet. Evidently they had just passed through the shifting battleground.

They stood there looking around for a few minutes. The broken glass sparkled under the neon lights and the crunching of people walking on it mingled with the wail of sirens. They decided to make their way back down Grafton Street but by then much of the throng had dispersed and those remaining were getting down to full-on battle. The missiles were flying thickly and the cops were trying to advance towards the river. The boys dashed by shop windows with their hands protecting their heads and they ducked in doorways to avoid the batons and the bottles. “Quick, in here!” shouted Doherty as Quirke almost ran past a good niche during one charge.

In this way they made it as far as O’Connell Street where they began to wonder how to get home. Taking it from the top, they took a side of the wide boulevard each and walked back towards the bridge to see if anyone they knew was still in town. Doherty met two girls who said they could get them a lift but first they all had a toke as they sat beside the car on Bachelors Walk.

Across the river the fighting had come down Westmoreland Street and reached the far end of the bridge but, as isolated silhouettes ran in different directions, it could be seen to be petering out. Back in Doherty’s house the boys finished the hash and just fell asleep in the front room until it was bright.

A Thunderstorm in Florence

A Thunderstorm in Florence

Florence is an anthill. Swarming with tourists, especially Americans, it can be difficult to get out of but the last time I was there, I wasn’t the only person showing some exasperation. A tall American father was pulling his little son along past the Duomo and the kid was singing or chanting something – something very repetitive, I guess – and the American dad looked down at him and pleaded, “For Christ’s sake, will you knock it off!”

That last time, on a waiting train at Santa Maria Novella, my head and torso melting after a hot Florentine afternoon, I was giving out about a young prick from Portugal or Brazil taking up three seats with three cases. His two nearby buddies removed theirs but, just then, we got seats behind him, directed by a cooling suggestion from three Italian women seated together in the carriage. Later I enjoyed seeing him bang his head off the overhead rack, blinded by his baseball cap and shades.

On 24 June 2013, the bus tour in contrast hadn’t even taken an hour in the fresh air. It sped around a shorter, darkening route, minus Santa Croce, but at least it was over before the deluge. The omission of Santa Croce was due to the annual Calcio storico ‘sporting’ free-for-all, which the impending thunderstorm also rained off inside the hour.

The banks of the Arno are the part of the city I like to look at most. The river holds the story I remember most. In 1304, the arts of Florence included a forerunner of reality TV. A staged performance of Hell had been advertised to take place by the Carraia bridge in a theatre that was set up on boats in the river. There were fires, naked souls screaming for mercy, master demons and henchmen devils wielding pitchforks. Overloaded with spectators who had crowded onto it, the bridge collapsed. All who fell in were drowned, apparently. It was said afterwards that those who’d gone to see Hell had got exactly what they were looking for.

As we got off the open-top bus, my father asked for chips, having developed a taste for the McDonalds variety in his eighties. The rain started during a shared quarter-pounder meal beside Santa Maria Novella, where I took the burger. At the table my mother rustled in her bag and produced a baby Bacardi and put it into the Coke. Then she revealed he had expressed to her a wish to see the Duomo.

Outside, the rain was getting heavier by the minute. She rustled in her bag again. They donned plastic macs and I got the umbrella, which was broken. A few hundred yards away, the piazza was by then a pond, ankle-deep under thunder and lightning. The authorities had shut the door of the Duomo. I told my father to go back to the door of the Baptistery, where she had ducked into the doorway. A young man there with a clipboard told her she couldn’t stay because there was a christening on but then he let her be after she used the one phrase of the English-speaking nations that is understood by all others.

By then my father was holding another broken umbrella, after a failed investment by my mother. An African hawker tried to sell him a third one but had to laugh when my father asked him a question. Is it as good as this one?

By the time we made it back to the station the elements had eased off. At first I couldn’t find a ticket validating machine on our platform. I asked two inspectors who were talking at the far end. One of them just waved me away with words that included “schermo” and “binario” but where was the schermo on the binario? That was what I wanted to know.

It turned out to be half-concealed at the entrance to the platform but then another train delay invalidated all the urgency. On the train I asked a glamorous, dark young woman across the aisle in order to make doubly sure it really was the one for Viareggio. When she learned we were Irish and I was the minder, she looked at my father and said something that made him say, “Eh, she doesn’t like me”, but she’d only offered her impression that he looked a bit Italian.

The inspector with the wave showed up with his Germanic eyes and his short beard, a spaghetti western type, a dodgy Franco Nero or Gian Maria Volonte. His first move in the carriage was to eject an African hawker (“Scende da quà”). After punching our tickets he gave a sinister smile and politely said “Grazie”.

The Gigs Place

The Gigs Place

Dublin, twenty years ago. The nights spent darkening the door of the Gigs Place in later years – it could take some time to get in – can be counted on one hand but all the key details had been sketched at the outset.

1996

7th September, Saturday

Gigs Place: out of the corner of my eye I saw a young crew-cut slipping out with a Groucho Marx walk (a runner). Then there was the long-haired musical type who insulted me after roaring for pepper. Got into a slanging match over pepper, saw a guy do a runner, met two women: a fifty-one-year-old female Dorian and a doctor in the house (her niece). More wine. The pinch test: Dorian showed me the difference between the skins of ‘old’ and ‘young’ via the elasticity of the back of the hand.

8th September, Sunday

On Sunday morning the ends of long streets in their post-dawn haze – all cities look the same then. Awake, shake scenes from your awareness. Bed at 7.20 AM.

17th October, Thursday

Gigs: people crashing out left, right and centre. Of a group of four women across from us, the one good-looking one lost the plot after making a pudding sandwich with her toast. She had to be helped out, while I never saw what happened to another member of her group who’d dipped first.

Behind us, one of a group of three women lay stretched out like a corpse. I only spotted the horizontal human-like shape on rising to go to the toilets.

Over to my right, beyond the dried-leafy trellis, a ginger-haired fella rested his head on his table, with his clean fry-up and a tall glass of milk. Vermeer might have captured it. Every so often a waitress would make a token effort to wake him. The Gigs Place is some place.

21st October, Monday

Words for a review of the Gigs Place: fare with no exotica and no frills. Optional chips with everything. Bad wine, the list consisting of red & white.

16th November, Saturday

Gigs: the sight of the night was a fella puking like a muck spreader.

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