On North Great George’s Street this morning I saw a woman pushing a buggy with her belly while using her hands to scrape a scratch card with a coin. I imagined the baby going flying as she raised her arms in jubilation but alas, it didn’t happen. This morning wasn’t her lucky day.
I enjoyed the image though, particularly as it happened right outside the tacky off-license at the corner where a few days ago I saw the homeless man who sits on O’Connell Bridge (with his rabbit and dog) buy booze. He stuffed his rabbit into his shopping trolley and held the dog under his arm while he rummaged for coins to buy his cans. He could have gone to Centra but he was looking for good value. Aren’t we all?
If these moments tell us anything about the Irish, it’s that we’re damn good at recessions. If it’s a quirky economic downturn you’re after, look no further than Dublin city centre.
Without a doubt the creature that has benefitted most from the downturn is the Leprechaun. This being, formerly associated with ancient folklore and American gullibility, (“Do you really have leprechauns in I-Ur lend?“) has experienced an unprecedented comeback in times of austerity. On Grafton Street you can find a man of about two and a half-foot who has painted his face orange, attached a ginger beard to his chin and placed a pot at his feet. He looks a little like an Oompa Lumpa from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film. If you felt sorry for him I think the joke would be on you; he’s probably making a killing. Size matters.
Size matters so much among opportunistic leprechauns that the one that hovers around the Molly Malone statue is enormous. His artificial head is about six times as big as his own. He waves his gigantic leprechaun arms awkwardly at passers-by and of late he has decorated his crock of gold with silver tinsel. The other day I saw him leaning against a lamppost on the phone, with his huge fake head under his arm. He didn’t look Irish, which made it all the more wonderful. He’s probably an economic downturn migrant from the BRIC area who’s heard that no one throws a recession session quite like the Irish.
It’s not all fun and games though. There are feuds on the streets; warring factions have developed. Resentment is building.
You can see why.
Way before economic opportunism was in fashion, an old man from Cavan had an idea. He decided to put on a tweed cap and a patchwork waistcoat and sit on Molly Malone banging on a badhrán. The tourists loved it. He’d motion to them to come sit beside him and encouraged them to take photographs. He even bought spare tweed caps for them to pose with in the pictures. Once, when I was in my first year of university, I pretended to be a German tourist just to get a picture with him. If somebody else tried to sit down on the statue beside him, he’d snarl at them and tell them to clear off. He had the kind of audacity I can only dream of.
It may be easy to mark your territory when the property market’s booming but things have changed. A few weeks ago, I saw my tweed-capped friend outside River Island, patting his badhrán with a sour face. Two American tourists stopped to have a look at him and quick as lightning he beamed. After both of them had had a go of the badhrán and dropped a few euro into his cap, he pulled them closer to him. Pointing at the giant leprechaun parading around Molly Malone, he whispered conspiratorially, “See that leprechaun? Don’t bother with him; He’s a fake”.
Budgets aside, recessions in Ireland are pure Gold.
Also, if you find this post facetious, you can read a serious piece about my opinion of the Irish here.