We detail the events that marked a new low in Ireland’s relationship with drink, drugs and casual violenceWere the events at the Phoenix Park last weekend uniquely bad in Irish history? I am not arguing here that they were acceptable, I just want to see if they were a uniquely low level? Ireland was fairly well known in the past of excessive drinking, fighting and sex at festivals. The sedate suburb of Donnybrook and its poshest shop gave English eponymous nouns for excess
Donnybrook: an inordinately wild fight or contentious dispute; brawl; free-for-all.
Donnybrook Fair: a fair which until 1855 was held annually at Donnybrook, County Dublin, Ireland, and which was famous for rioting and dissipation.
If the original Donnybrook fair rave can give rise to the fancy shop of the same name maybe in 2200 Ikea will be called the Swedish House Mafia. But an Oxegen squared in the 1800's doesn't prove much. Were Irish concerts generally well behaved?
THE BEST PLACE for a good riot is a theatre. The left likes to imagine rioting as the oppressed rising up against the oppressors, and the right sees it as evidence of the moral decay of society. But there’s a long history, in Dublin and London, of theatrical rioting. Indeed, to my knowledge, the longest and most sustained riots in both cities in the past three centuries happened in and around theatres. This surely says something about the nature of both theatre and riots.
According to the history of Irish theatre the Smock alley riot of 1747 suggests not. Just down from the Phoenix Park Smock Alley was where Trinity Toffs seemed to go to feel superior. Edmund Kelly a student went backstage told an actress Mrs Dyer that he would 'do what her husband Mr Dyer, had done to her', using the obscene expression. Another young Trinity student of the time, Edmund Burke, saw Kelly put his hands 'under the actress's petticoats'. Edmund Burke the intellectual founder of conservatism is now considered venerable enough to have a statue outside Trinity. The manager Sheriden kicked Kelly out but because he was not a 'gentleman' Kelly demanded an apology. Rioting shut the theatre and spread to the streets. Days of riots followed over whether a theatre owner stopping a girl getting raped could say "I am as good a gentleman as you are” about a would be rapist.
In 1821 the Bottle Riots also started in a theatre. 'Orange sentiment which, in the heated condition of public opinion, had become dangerous, and he prohibited the dressing of the statue of William III. on College Green on July 12, then regarded as an annual demonstration. This was followed by a riot, afterwards known as "the bottle riot," when an organized body of Orangemen packed the pit and gallery of the Dublin theatre when the Marquess was present and with cries of, "Down with the Popish Lord-Lieutenent" they flung missiles, one of which was a large whiskey-bottle, at the royal box'
Next up in the entirely 21st century phenomena of fights at concerts is the 1851 riot in the Mechanics theatre
The Beatles song "Being for the benefit of Mr Kite" was inspired by one of the posters of Pablo Fanque the proprietor the night of the riot. 'playgoers threatened to riot and destroy the theatre in protest to the winner of a "conundrum" contest' which puts loud words at someone using a mobile during the pub table quiz into perspective.
Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World and O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars also incited riots. The Playboy riots were incited by Arthur Griffith the President of Dáil Éireann. He described the play as "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform". O'Casey's riot was seen by Yeats as again showing how uncouth Irish concert goers were "You have disgraced yourself again, is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius? Wilde's Salome caused a bit of a ruck as well but does not seem to have descended into open fighting.
There is a long history of people having fights at concerts. History seems to better remember those with political roots unlike what happened in Phoenix Park. To decide this is a particularly bad incident requires us to at least look at the history of these riots.