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comment Give black our streets and make Friday a Thanskgiving for all the happy festival childhood memories


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Ciaran Blake and his son Noah (3) from Rathfarnham on Grafton Street

Ciaran Blake and his son Noah (3) from Rathfarnham on Grafton Street

Colin Keegan

Ciaran Blake and his son Noah (3) from Rathfarnham on Grafton Street

Grafton Street, Yuletide lights ablaze, was the enchanted alcazar of our childhood Christmases.

Even in recent years, though hurtling at dislocating warp speed into a second half-century of life, a festive stroll down the grand dame of Dublin boulevards triggered an endorphin rush of elation, a postcard from times of innocence.

The aromas and sounds and lit up joy of all those entrancing shopfronts of ancient Decembers past hurtle across the decades in glorious, technicolour, sensory overload.

It is again the 1970s and we are restored to youth, observing the world through a curious, wide-eyed, marvelling gaze.

Join me, in flicking through the back catalogue of a life lived and half-forgotten.

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Alina Pinrea and her son Patric (7) from Rathgar on Grafton Street, Dublin

Alina Pinrea and her son Patric (7) from Rathgar on Grafton Street, Dublin

Colin Keegan

Alina Pinrea and her son Patric (7) from Rathgar on Grafton Street, Dublin

That handsome mansion where Brown Thomas now resides is again Switzer's, its Noel windows a Disneyland of nativity wonder, a soundtrack of seasonal hymns rolling from its portholes, the queue for Santa snaking far onto snow-flecked Wicklow Street.

In this waiting room open to the skies, a private audience with the North Pole's bearded and ruddy patriarch imminent, hearts thump with uncontainable nervous excitement against the walls of pre-teen chests.

At Bewley's, the bouquet of coffee beans wafts into the illuminated eve, an ecstasy of carol-singers midwifing delirious renditions of Oh Holy Night into the ether.

Flower sellers cast Neary's Edwardian façade in a botanic frame, the pub's elegant lamp-holders, a pair of imposing cast-iron arms, shimmering in the wintry dusk. Down the road at Davy Byrne's, revellers head into the Duke Street twilight, bellies warmed by an insulating soup of hot whiskey.

Long-lost friends are reanimated and returned to full health: Woolworths, FX Kelly, Pia Bang, Cambridge's Fine Art Shop, Hayes Conyngham and Robinson's landmark pharmacy and, in the house where Ronald McDonald now resides, the old Mitchell's Café again thrives.

Grafton Street was once more showered in traditional neon glitz last week, the Christmas burnish switched-on remotely from a Temple Street hospital bed by the wonderful 11-year-old, Simone Rowley.

With Simone's features as vivid and scintillating as any of the streetlight bulbs that now flood the ancient shopping avenue with luminescence, it felt like a moment of hope. A beautiful, heartsoar detonation of optimism.

Yet, trailing the bright comet, was a tail - and a tale - of sadness.

The regal street's department stores, boutiques and coffee houses lie in a induced-coma, mute, forlorn and locked down.

Covid's pernicious touch has formed a terrifyingly powerful alliance with the Goliath of online shopping to accelerate the threat to the high street.

The vital organs of the old order find themselves under sustained assault. Small family-run businesses, local treasures that have survived war and recession and credit crunches, are gasping for oxygen.

And now the forbidding, suffocating shadow of Black Friday looms. The wheeze, conceived in some Madison Avenue New York advertising house, has travelled, like a commercial coronavirus, across the oceans, infecting and laying waste to all it touches.

It is a rapacious beast, hungry for every euro that might otherwise offer life-saving CPR to flatlining domestic outlets. Grafton Street, Cork's Patrick Street, Galway's Shop Street, Limerick's O'Connell Street, every local shop in every town and village in the country can only shudder with anxiety.

And yet, there is a vaccine.

Like Luke Kelly, who would have turned 80 on Tuesday, we can sing a song for Ireland.

Imagine this as a sporting contest, pitting Henry Street against the internet, the local shop against Amazon, the stores that bring life to our cities and towns are brick and mortar versions of Katie Taylor, Johnny Sexton, Stephen Cluxton, Seamus Coleman and Aaron Gillane.

Let's get behind them. Why not apply a powerful emerald dye to a shopping binge conceived in America. Let us shade Black Friday green.

By all means spend should you have the disposable income. But, whether it is a fiver or €500, maybe consider throwing the money into a local till rather than shipping it electronically to some anonymous warehouse in the distant beyond.

That pair of shoes or jeans you had planned to buy from one of the online powerhouses, why not order it from a local retailer instead? Likewise, the local electrical store or drapery, the artisan cheesemaker, the microbrewery, even the corner shop needs us to wrap our Christmas shopping in the tricolour.

It might be the difference between a business living and dying.

The choice is simple: We can spend local or we can watch our High Streets perish.

Turn this Friday green - make it a Thanskgiving for all the happy and sustaining festival childhood memories - and ensure Grafton Street at Christmas can be a magical kingdom for the next generation.

Sunday World


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