Saturday, 21 November 2009

Irish Tour - day six

Without another city or town to travel to, it was nice to grab a little time for a lie in. Still we didn’t want to waste the day as we had most of it to ourselves. The screening at University College Dublin (UCD) wasn’t until the evening so Kirst had planned some sightseeing – the Bank of Ireland and Kilmainham Gaol.

First we wanted to check in to our accommodation and drop off our bags. Our room at the Montrose was massive. I’m not sure if a special room was booked but according to the room plan on the back of the door, our room was almost a suite.

Racing back out into Dublin wasn’t so appealing. I wouldn’t have minded grabbing some sleep because it has felt a bit like a packed itinerary. Plus the weather was blowing a gale outside. Still, we got out and headed into the centre.

As I’ve mentioned before, my webstats have been really high because of this trip. People are reading my tweets ( and following this blog. It’s not often I get an audience and I’d written the blogs for the past few days, but we hadn’t had WiFi. WiFi in our hotel was €20 for 24 hours – which seems scandalous. We found a coffee shop in the city centre with WiFi, bought an expensive yet snacky lunch and stuck around long enough to publish the blogs.

The Bank of Ireland didn’t keep us for very long. The building has a fascinating history but it is, after all, a working bank and most areas are not open to the public. Kilmainham Gaol, however, was excellent. We timed our arrival well and caught a tour almost immediately. This was a great relief as we’d visited a couple of years ago. On that occasion, we missed the tour and it happened to be the last one of the day.

The tour was great. This was down to the place, obviously, but helped massively by one of the most competent tour guides ever. She was brilliant and balanced everything expertly. The gale outside howled around the building and added something really quite foreboding about the place.

As an Englishman, I found myself uneasy about what the British did there. Having said that I’m uneasy about lots of things the British are doing now. I’m not aware of any personal connection with either the captors or the captives. I tried to make myself feel better by reminding myself of the links and brotherhood between the Free Irish and the Chartists and English trade union movement. But again, I’m not aware of any personal historical connection between any of these groups either.

Anyway, we eventually left Kilmainham and had limited time to get back to the hotel in rush hour. When we got back, we had enough time to appreciate the complimentary chocolates left on the bed and changed for the screening. The hotel is very well located for UCD – virtually just across the road.

As we’d arranged, Simone Schroth was waiting near the café. We could also see the posters placed around the place. Simone had obviously been busy. It was good to meet her and we grabbed a quick drink, a brief hello chat and then we went to the screening room. The German ambassador had accepted Simone’s invitation to attend the screening. Apparently, some security had to be arranged – or at least the university needed to be notified so that they could make sure things were secure.

The ambassador was a bit late but in the meantime the students opened their popcorn and I got chance to meet the German embassy’s cultural attaché. He’d even seen the film already and yet again, everyone seemed very positive.

The screening went well and I stood up to start the Q&A. I got some good questions and enjoyed discussing things. One of the university’s teaching staff (a professor, I think) expressed strong feelings about East Germany. He also had strong feelings about the current imbalance between east and west and the subsidy required. One of his colleagues expressed an opposing view, which was great for the discussion, but it looked like the Q&A could go too far down an intra-German discussion. The ambassador (I’m afraid I can’t remember his name. Must google it!) stepped in with a balanced response. He was also very complimentary about the value of the stories I collected.

I was definitely getting tired after nearly an hour of discussion. I found it hard to catch some of the more tricky questions and I think I missed the last one completely. Apologies to that person. I was pleased to get the chance to take my seat again but Simone asked me stay up for a surprise.

UCD has a German Society (or Deutsch Soc). At the end of the Q&A they came up to join me at the front and present me with “Honorary Life Membership for a significant contribution to German heritage”. I was genuinely touched by the gesture and still can’t quite believe that students would watch the film and want to make such a gesture.

We had a drink and some sandwiches in the bar afterwards and discussed things. I took out the framed Deutsch Soc certificate and took moment to read it more carefully. The ambassador also read it and said he totally agreed. This may sound kinda cheesy, but I’ve never been honoured before. I’m particularly pleased with it.

Eventually, we finished up at the university. We said our thanks and good byes to Simone and spent a little time to take some photos of the posters. We crossed back over the road to the hotel and had a drink in the bar before calling it a day – a great day, actually.

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