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“That’s my dad!” shouted the little girl.
Outside the arch of St James’s Gate brewery, she spins around, a bumblebee umbrella rested on her shoulder, and points up at the cherry picker.
This was not the first New Year’s that Abbie had spent here. She’s been coming as long as she can remember to see her dad, Robbie Minto, strip down the plaque for the outgoing year and replace the date with the new one.
Some years, when she was littler, she would be asleep well before midnight and had to be woken up. This year, she’s 10 and she was still awake.
Up on the platform in the cold rain, Minto and his long-time workmate Eoghan Kelly unload orange cones, then start to unscrew the sign for 2016. It’s fifteen minutes to midnight.
Down on the shiny grey pavement, a group had started to gather outside St James’s Gate: siblings, parents, daughters, friends.
The 2016 plaque pulls off to reveal 2009, and Kelly and Minto screw a new one in place with a duct-taped sheet over the final number: 201 … . It isn’t time yet.
In the past, most here would spend New Year Eve’s at house parties. But for the last six years, or thereabouts, they have greeted the new year here on James’s Street.
“It’s a pride thing, I suppose, when a member of your family is actually changing the date,” says Jason Kennedy, wearing a flat cap on his head and a long grey coat.
“I remember when the guy used to stand on the other fella’s shoulders while he was painting that,” he shouts up to Minto, his cousin. “Now you have to have a machine to get up there.”
The crowd waits patiently for the moment when the old year ticks over to the new.
A Garda van draws up and a woman takes a photo through the window, smiles behind the glass, and pulls away into the night.
A woman pushes up a pram with a tiny baby inside under a rain-sheet, and some step forward to see the new arrival. Another hands out umbrellas, one with a Frozen theme, another advertising Spiderman.
Up on the cherry picker’s platform, Minto rubs his hands together.
Kennedy tosses up a pair of black woollen gloves.
Minto has worked at the St James’s Gate brewery for about 25 years. Kelly – who joined first as his apprentice – has been there for about 20.
Back when he was in his late teens, Minto decided he wanted to be a carpenter, guided in that direction by folks at the youth club he went to.
The first job he was offered was dealing with payroll. He turned it down at first until a guy on his FÁS scheme told him he was stupid. He should get his foot in the door, the guy said. So he called them back, and took the job. A year later, they offered him an apprenticeship.
These days, his job means all kinds of things, but mostly, not being quite sure what the day will bring.
They’ll reclad the steam room, or fit a new kitchen, or fix the heel on the shoe of a girl in reception. Perhaps, they’ll mend the handles on the bathroom doors so they don’t fall off and trap people inside, or perhaps they’ll block up drafts, or loosen jammed windows.
It’s never the same-old, same-old. “I think that’s why I’m still here,” says Minto.
The best job, though, is changing the date for the new year.
It’s a little before midnight. Minto grips the tape at the top of the cover sheet.
On the other side ofthe cherry picker, Mike Gogan readies his camera to take a photo of the moment the final number will be revealed.
“It’s local folklore,” says Gogan, a silver-haired business writer who came last year so he could use the scene in a book chapter he is writing.
He walked over the river from Stoneybatter for the ritual again this year.
The countdown begins and more voices join in as the numbers descend: 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and there are shouts of “Happy New Year!” and a short burst of clapping.
The platform drops so the date is clear: 2017. Gogan waves up to Minto, who hangs over the railings of the cherry picker.
The weather may have put some off this year, says Kelly. “The night that’s in it is killing it a little bit, but generally when it’s dry you get a right old crowd.”
He remembers seeing Guinness painters changing the date when he was younger. He used to look through the cracks in the gates. One day that was where he would work, he thought.
“It’s funny that I came here as a lad, and now I’m doing it myself,” he said. “It’s great. It’s a good tradition.”
That is a great New Year story with a difference … well spotted … it’s what local journalism in the big city is about.
I’ll be there next year if I’m still on this side of the ground.
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