Yesterday late afternoon – and in the darkness after the clocks had gone back – I came across a group of clearly middle class parents and their children building a bonfire in a Dublin public space. In order to assemble enough flammable material they had broken branches off nearby trees, had taken some construction timber from a builder’s yard and had added what looked like old cushions from a sofa. They were getting ready to light the fire on a piece of City Council parkland lawn, almost under a tree which, I thought, had a good chance of catching fire. I was walking my German Shepherd dog, which I confess tends to give me a bit of extra gravitas in such situations, as many people are a little nervous of these dogs, and he has a habit of baring his teeth if he thinks someone is not being nice to me (otherwise he is very friendly). So I walked up to this very respectable group and advised them that they were about to cause serious damage and destruction, and not a little risk to themselves and passers by. They were polite enough to me (as I said, the dog), but made it very clear that they had no intention of abandoning their plans – though they did delay them while waiting for me to move on.
I guess my public spiritedness didn’t stretch as far as it should, since eventually I did indeed walk on. I briefly contemplated calling the Gardai (police), but I guessed that on this day they wouldn’t do anything much in response. In short, I’m rather ashamed to say I washed my hands of the whole thing and went home. Today some time I shall go and inspect the scene to see what damage was done.
OK, you may think I’m an appalling busybody and spoilsport, and a coward to boot. But all this does annoy me. Every year, in Dublin alone, Hallowe’en bonfires and fireworks create costs for the City Council of around €1 million – and this at a time of economic crisis. That figure does not factor in the costs created elsewhere in the country, nor the extent of damage to private property, personal injuries, pollution, and so forth. Nor does the sum of money tell you about the intimidation caused to vulnerable (often elderly) people, or the animals that are displaced or frightened.
I also saw young children trick-or-treating with their parents, and yes, that’s perfectly nice. But overall Hallowe’en has become a cause of damage and minor terror, and while annually we tell ourselves what costs it is imposing on us we seem unable to do anything of any use about it. Every bonfire that was lit last night was breaking the law, and yet probably nobody will be prosecuted; and this is neatly setting the scene for next year. Isn’t it time for all this to stop?