A donkey’s ride from the lifeless Christmas scenes at Dublin’s Mansion House, the alternative “common sense” crib came to life in its new, tranquil St Stephen’s Green setting on Thursday.
Contented farmyard animals – a donkey, a sheep and a goat – slouched around in the hay under the watchful eyes of giddy children, oblivious to the supporting role they played in a fleeting, festive political standoff.
“I see it as a commonsense approach that has been taken to resolve something,” said Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State at the Office of Public Works whose eleventh-hour intervention offered something of a Christmas miracle to this 30-year-old city tradition.
In the name of the season and rural Ireland, O’Donovan had stepped in to find this new, arguably superior, setting for the crib whose traditional Mansion House home had been cancelled by Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy, partly on the grounds of animal welfare.
But why intervene? “You can see the answer there: look at the way the children are hanging in over the railings in absolute awe of something that they don’t see day-to-day,” the Minister said, defiantly in his Christmas jumper.
“I take it for granted in the part of the world I come from [Newcastle West, Co Limerick]. They are entitled to see it because it’s part of Christmas.”
Although eager to play down any simmering tensions, Thursday’s grand unveiling at the parks’ Summer House – complete with choir and angel-winged children from the Aungier Street YMCA creche – was notable for attending Fine Gael politicians and a lack of Greens.
Opening the crib, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan made a point of acknowledging the Minister’s intervention, amid “huge concern” it might not have gone ahead.
“We have lost some of that tradition of people knowing where their food comes from and I think having that interaction between rural and urban is very important,” he said.
That was a sentiment shared by Fionn Sherlock, the third generation of a farming family to carry on the tradition of transporting well cared for animals to and from Enniskerry, Co Wicklow every day. They do a part-time shift – 10.30am to 3.30pm until December 22nd.
“A lot of people mightn’t have the same exposure to farming and they might think it’s cruel but at the end of the day the animals wouldn’t be in any better condition at home,” he said.
“The conditions are exactly the same ... it’s just people in Dublin and far and beyond get to see them, that’s the only difference.”
There was a consensus the Mansion House cancellation might be a blessing in disguise; many people commented on the serene, tree-lined setting. And not an animal-rights activist in sight.
“Once they’re wrapped up well somewhere at night,” smiled Aimee Doran, who with her husband Stephen, was showing the animals to their one-year-old son Josh. “It’s just the novelty of it, I don’t know, it’s a lovely touch I think, it would be hard to get rid of it now.”