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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# the light fantastic
All lit up - a sneak preview of Dublin's Christmas lightshow
It takes four weeks and over a million lightbulbs to keep Dublin looking festive come December. / YouTube

WE’VE SAID IT before this week, and we’ll say it again – Christmas is a comin’.

While it may feel like it’s a little early to be talking about the festive season, there’s one thing we think we can be sure most people do enjoy about the coming rush – and that’s the switching on of a town’s Christmas lights.

Putting up those lights is a process you might not think much about – but it’s a complex one. It takes about four weeks in total to install Dublin’s lights fully.

Right now, DublinTown (a collective of about 2,500 businesses in the city centre which runs Dublin at Christmas) is coming to the end of its light-hanging extravaganza ahead of the official southside / northside switch-on dates of 13 November and 17 November. So we paid a visit to Henry Street on the city’s northside on a recent night to get a feel for what the job involves (light-hanging shifts run from 10pm until 6am).


20161103_221847 The lights look a little forlorn in their unlit state

And you know what? They even turned the lights on for us.

Christmas lights – the facts

Some things you may not know about Dublin’s Christmas lights:

  • Over one million lightbulbs and fixtures go into lighting up the city. One million! And every one gets tested in advance
  • A team of 20 works though the night for 200 hours to erect all the lights
  • Grafton Street boasts 47,350 light bulbs alone
  • 20 designated trees get the decoration treatment in the city centre
  • The lights will be lit for more than 1,000 hours until switch off time on 7 January
  • 30 streets will get the festive treatment, at a cable-distance of 4.5 kilometres

We meet up with Gerry Farrell, lighting co-ordinator for DublinTown, for a quick tour of the light-hanging factory.

20161103_222649 Gerry Farrell of DublinTown (left) and Colin Dunning of Fantasy Lights

20161103_221728 Setting the lights


Three cherry-pickers and a crane are being used to install the fixtures for Henry Street. Some of these lights are brand new, Gerry proudly informs us. Chandeliers and bowties are the order of the day.

It gives you a prickle of anticipation for the hustle and bustle to come seeing the lights being hung on a nearly-deserted street. Nobody is paying the guys much attention as they go about their business.

That Christmas feeling

This is the eighth year that DublinTown has handled the lighting for the city centre.

“We cover all sorts of activities, festivals, and of course the Christmas lights,” Gerry tells us.


20161103_223525 Henry Street, looking good

Prior to us coming along, a handful of businesses would dip into their pockets and pay for the lights. Now, because everybody contributes, we have a budget to work with and we can expand the amount and quality of the lights.

It’s the one thing that everyone wants to know about, from September on, Gerry explains – when are the lights going on?

“What they don’t understand, or remember, is that they go on on the same Thursday on the northside every year,” he laughs. “It doesn’t change! So you can pencil the date in.”

It’s cold work pushing through the night at this time of year, but the lads stick to their job dutifully.

“There’s so much to it really,” says Gerry.

It can be a case of the little things. The smaller streets are often the ones that people get the greatest kick out of.
Like Johnson’s Court (one of the tiny lanes linking Grafton Street and Clarendon Street) – people love the fittings there, and they love taking pictures there. It’s a real kick seeing the little things going down well.

The sweetest thing

But what’s the biggest and best thing about the lights?

“Oh the biggest kick you get is the ‘five, four, three, two, one’ when they’re lit up for the first time,” says Gerry without hesitation.

There’ll be a few thousand people, and this lovely Christmassy feeling, and at that time it’s all very worth it. Switching them on has become an event in itself – it’s hugely popular.

That’s all well and good, but these lights look a little forlorn in their dormant state – so it’s time for us to get a sneak preview.

We stand at the Millennium Spire, and wait (the guys need a cherry picker for this – the lights on Henry Street are controlled via a fuse box above Arnotts department store).

And then, flash! The empty street is lit up and everything suddenly looks a whole lot happier. People stop to take pictures and have a gawp, and in a heartbeat the world is feeling more festive.

Then you see the power of a good Christmas lightshow. And at that moment December can’t come quickly enough.


DublinTown is the business collective behind Dublin at Christmas – you can learn more about what’s happening in the capital for the Christmas season here

Read: Santa is getting a head start on the festive season in the skies above Shannon Airport

Read: There is way less salt in your sausages these days

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