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Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Worse than Vikings, English stag parties descend on Dublin


By MICHAEL FITZPATRICK

"Since tonight the wind is high The sea's white mane a fury I need not fear the hordes of hell Coursing the English Channel"

DUBLIN -- The Viking terror may have receded from these shores since those anonymous lines were inked out in Irish 10 centuries ago, but according to some, a fearsome danger threatens Dublin still.

That menace today is the city's expanding tourist trade -- particularly in Dublin's top tourist area, Temple Bar, where that scourge of pubs and night-spots, the stag night (or bachelor party as it is known to some) has been banned.

The narrow, cobbled streets of the once Bohemian Temple Bar, sandwiched between the Liffey River and Dame Street, have become a mecca in recent years for groups (typically British groups) bent on a memorable prenuptial binge. A recent report by an association representing pubs and hotels in the area has found that 93 percent of stag and hen (bachelorette) party participants in the city hailed from the United Kingdom. Apparently their excesses are losing the city 57 million punts a year as other travelers stay clear of the more boisterous British celebrants. Only 1 percent of travelers to Dublin are with stag or hen parties.

As a Dublin resident, I've often heard of these shenanigans in the city center but hadn't until now seen for myself what testosterone-fueled mayhem had aroused the city burghers into action.

Sure enough, a Saturday evening gargle in the touristy Fitzsimons pub brought a troop of "staggers" into view. The doorman arrived to issue a small rebuke to the party who were "up to their mark," and hospitality reigned again.

Dave the bouncer explained that they, or other stag parties, would not be banned. Even though the 20 English lads had effectively created their own exclusive zone, because no one wanted to sit next to them, the owner depends on stag and hen parties for a living.

As it was, he was probably doing very well on the earnings from the countless number of carefully nursed glasses of stout ordered by more genteel European visitors. In Temple Bar a half-pint (or glass of beer as they say here) is nearly the same price as a pint.

Another brash restaurant bar, the All Sports Cafe on the same street, also knew where its brack was buttered and was actually soliciting stag parties. Not surprising, really, as the men out to drink the Guinness brewery dry were elsewhere tonight. Perhaps the hens were strutting their stuff instead?

"We do get plenty of hen nights here," says Owen, doorman for Luigi Malone's restaurant. "They never caused that much trouble. We just don't like them because they have an attitude problem. They are tacky, really tacky, and rowdier than the stags. They like to wear a lot of plastic penises and throw them around the table. But I'm afraid it's the same when the Irish go abroad. They get pissed and act like idiots."

A refuge from the unrelentingly juvenile and touristy Temple pubs is the snug Palace Bar, where stags and hens are as welcome as a coachload of teetotalers. In from the arid cold, we put our wet, foaming pints on a shelf and are joined by a new voice: champion of "dear old dirty Dublin," 27-year-old Darragh, who puts us right about this banning nonsense.

"About eight to 10 years ago, around here was falling down, derelict, earmarked to be turned into the central bus station. Thankfully it was never to be, and the area was turned over to tourist development. New bars and eateries sprung up and it became the hot destination for stag nights." The blue eyes flash.

"I've been drinking here for years," Darragh says, "and I've never once seen a fight involving stag parties. But these publicans, they are after putting up the price of a pint, and after been encouraging the stag parties to come over and gave Dublin its name as the party capital, then all the other tourists followed.

"Then they say: 'We'll get rid of these stag parties, now we've made out of them.' "

In the rush to get rich, then, are the pub and club owners perhaps forgetting their roots? Certainly it's a far cry from the Temple Bar in the 18th century, when it was a place of prostitution and riotous excesses.

The modern-day alleyways appear only to be giving of a weak echo of their inglorious past with their now-banned displays of male nudity -- apparently the only fitting state for the groom to be in after a stag night.

Molly Sugdins, over from Newcastle in England to celebrate her sister's forthcoming wedding, thinks it's a lot of fuss over nothing.

"I must say we've had no problems getting drinks in Temple Bar," she says, "but we are not out to do any harm, so why should anybody want to ban a hen party?"

With its new-found riches, Dublin has gone through something of a sea change. Now, like most of the tourists who visit it, Dublin likes to be seen as respectable, but at the same time it is in risk of losing what makes it so attractive in the first place: its vitality and easy going hospitality.

Perhaps the Vikings would think twice about troubling the city now.



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