Enjoying Dun Laoghaire in the sun

I’m in Dublin for work right now, staying here until Thursday night. And lucky for me, I get to stay in the town where I grew up, Dun Laoghaire, which is south of the City. 

I landed to a surprising – but welcome! – amount of winter sunshine, so as soon as I’d unpacked and organised my hotel room, I headed out to walk the pier and enjoy some sunshine, while it lasted. 

Walking the pier was really a Sunday afternoon tradition when I was growing up here. And the crowds today showed that it’s still a popular venue for a walk and a natter. The town has changed a lot since I grew up here, but the coast is relatively unchanged. The pier still faces out towards Dublin Bay and you can follow the path along the coach to Sandycove – so I did!

I walked the length of the pier in record time, so took it a little easier as I made my way over to Sandycove and its Martello tower. And amazingly, despite the cold, there were some people swimming in the sea at Forty Foot. Colloquially known as the ‘Gentlemens’ Bathing Place’, Forty Foot was always known for all-year swimming and a contingent of gentlemen who preferred (and were allows) to swim ‘sans shorts’.  

I came back to my hotel via the new library, the Dun Laoghaire Lexicon. Its striking design is very different to everything around it, but I think it’s fabulous. I know it divided opinion, but I think it makes a bold and confident addition to how Dun Laoghaire faces out to the sea. 

Sun a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. I love coming back to Dublin, especially when I can combine it with work. Now to catch up with some old friends and (hopefully) something to eat. 
 

A tale of two check-ins…

I’ve just checked-in to my hotel here in Dublin and had to share this…

I got a taxi out from the airport and had a surprisingly nice chat with the driver, considering we were discussing Brexit and Trump. We both felt a little helpless and both agreed that focusing on the sunshine was probably more productive, at least for today!

I realised when I got to my hotel that I was probably a little early to check-in and decided I’d only ask to leave my suitcase with them, so I could go for a walk by the sea (I’m staying in Dun Laoghaire, south of the City Centre). 

But I was checked in by the nicest, friendliest Brazilian girl, with whom I had a great chat about coming back home, how London compares to São Paulo and what Dublin is like for a Brazilian. 

We laughed, smiled and treated each other like humans. I got a free room upgrade, so I’m now in an executive room overlooking the sea. 

However, the woman checking in to my right had come from the US and was pretty much berating the staff member who was trying to tell her that her room wasn’t ready. I thought that maybe if she’d started with a smile, or a ‘hello’, the encounter might have gone so differently. 

But, no. As far as I know, she’s still waiting for her room and probably silently fuming at how she felt she was treated. Meanwhile, I’m in my room, admiring the sunny views over Dun Laoghaire pier, have unpacked and am planning a nice walk in the unexpected sun. 

I’ll also be leaving an excellent online review of the hotel, in the hope it goes some way to cancel out the negative one she’s inevitably going to leave. 

A sunny day in Dun Laoghaire

As I’m working in Dublin tomorrow, I decided to make a weekend of it and revisit some of my old stomping grounds. I couldn’t have asked for better weather as @FrankDJS and I visited Dun Laoghaire, where I grew up. Just a short train ride from the city centre, with beautiful views out into Dublin Bay, it’s somewhere I encourage all friends visiting Dublin to go and see.

After a suitable volume of coffee (at one of two Starbucks cafes on Marine Road – ever so slightly confusing), we met my friend Claudina and walked the pier – something I really miss since moving to London many moons ago. We weren’t alone – as on most dry Sundays, the pier was full of dog-walkers and families.

Afterwards, we went for a wander through the People’s Park and its Sunday farmer’s market. Despite the size of my hotel breakfast, I was quickly tempted by several of the food stalls. In no time at all, I demolished the most delicious Italian sausage in a baguette, leaving more than a little evidence all down the front of my jeans.

But it was definitely worth it.

And then some more coffee in the park’s newly-refurbished cafe. It was great to see Dun Laoghaire in the sun again and even better so see so many people enjoying the pier and the park. I admit it made me homesick for the first time in a very long time!

I’m so very happy I’ll be back again soon.

Eurovison 2016: Ireland

So we’re just under 100 days until this year’s Eurovision spectacular. Time to review the songs selected so far. And why not start with Ireland?

Why, it’s Westlife’s Nicky Byrne with ‘Sunlight’. It’s not bad. Not bad at all. Definitely Ireland’s best entry for a few years. (But remember, I’m wrong on Eurovision predictions almost every year! The last time I got it right was predicting Conchita Wurst would win for Austria. And I think that was pretty much obvious from the start due to a combination of immense talent and a superb song. This is no “Rise like a Phoenix”.)

No offence Nicky, you’ll do Ireland proud.

And if I consider the songs I’ve heard so far, Ireland’s is the stand-out winner.  The bar is extremely low to date, with a pretty dire and tuneless effort from Malta, a miserable wail from Albania and a mid-90’s Spice Girl wanna-be from Belgium.

Nicky’s rocking a bit of a Bryan Adams vibe here, both in looks and the song itself. I’ve probably heard it about six times in the last week and it’s memorable enough to sing along to. I’m not sure if that’s because it sounds like a lot of other songs, though.

It really needs to stand out to get some votes. Lot’s of camera close-ups on Nicky’s cheeky smile should help. And some exposure across Europe before the contest, too. For me, right now, this should get out of the semi-final pretty easily.

But let’s see what the next couple of months deliver in terms of the competition.

Early verdict: 7/10.

Getting a passport with your iPhone?

Amazingly, yesterday afternoon I used my iPhone to order a passport card from the Irish Passport Office.

Amazingly?

Well, I used the iPhone app Irish Passport Card from the Department of Foreign Affairs, filled in some basic details, then took an appropriately grim-looking selfie and I was all done.

It took a total of about six minutes. Compare that to the standard paperwork these things require and even the time spent queuing for passports. This is going to be posted to my home address, so no requirement to do anything but wait.

Finally, government services catching up with 21st Century technology. Big thanks for the Department of Foreign Affairs for making it so easy for emigrants like me to access this service.

No big deal

So Ireland’s Minister for Health came out on the radio this morning.

The government didn’t collapse. The country didn’t sink into the Atlantic and the people didn’t take to the streets with pitchforks. Leo Varadkar is gay, end of story.

While I occasionally comment on the sexual orientation of people in the public eye, I don’t dwell on it. But in this case, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that even a few years ago, this would spell the end of an Irish Government Minister’s career.

But it’s 2015 and, hopefully, things have moved on. Many people will see this as interesting, some will see it as a positive move and some others will inevitably see it as “intrinsically disordered“. The latter are hopefully an ever-decreasing minority, though.

I think Minister Varadkar’s move signals that there are gay people in all walks of life in Ireland, that it’s possible to survive – and thrive – in the challenging arena of Irish politics and that he’s not in any way apologetic for who he is.

His approach to this was refreshing and positive:

“I am a gay man, it’s not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know but isn’t something I’ve spoken publicly about before,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio.

“It’s not something that defines me,” he said. “I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character I suppose”.

Given last year’s furore over Panti Bliss and RTE’s pathetic response to the right wing, I hope this can signal a more positive step towards a more equal society.

Onwards, to this year’s marriage equality referendum.

It’s that time of year…

Yep. There’s something in the air. You can see it all over Europe, as people across the continent look up with a sense of anticipation and optimism for the future. Exercising their democratic right, they vote in their millions and select…

Their entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Now, I won’t hear a word against the Eurovision. I’ve been a fan for many years, possibly since one of Ireland earlier wins. (There’s nothing like a certain amount of national pride to pique my interest).

Yes, it’s camp. Yes, some of the music is bizarre. Most of the costumes, too. The presenters have been both inspired and painfully wooden. And the interval acts… Let’s save that for another time.

Returning to Ireland’s earlier win.

I distinctly remember my grandmother letting me stay up late to watch the votes coming in as a (fairly) fresh-faced Johnny Logan won in Brussels with “Hold Me Now”. I was just 11 and my Nana was “baby-sitting” my sister and I as my parents were out at a business dinner. It wasn’t the song that excited me (still doesn’t) but the fact that Ireland actually won something.

I write this the morning after Ireland won the Six Nations in stunning style in Paris. But to my 11 year old self, Ireland wasn’t really famous for anything. TV was full of UK and US imports and the only Irish musicians I could think of were U2.

I led a sheltered life, that’s true.

But that Eurovision win – and the fantastic spectacle of voting announcements at the end of the evening – sparked something in me. Ever since, I’ve been addicted and won’t miss a single show. Recently, YouTube, Twitter and blogs have made it easier than ever to see and hear the acts before they’re performed. But the same old Eurovision faux-glamour is still there.

Things have definitely changed over the years.

Terry Wogan has sadly passed on the BBC baton of wry commentary, but into the very capable hands of the equally Irish Graham Norton.

Expectations for the show have increased and the staging has become more and more elaborate. The number of countries entering has grown steadily, really stretching to incredulity the definition of the word “European”.

 

A very noble call

I just watched this video. And you should too.

Yes, there’s a very local Dublin story that sits behind this speech. But it’s also a universal story. A story about every gay man and woman who has wondered what it is – what precisely it is – about them that bigots hate.

I could be flippant and make jokes about style, music, taste… but I worry that would be falling prey to the same bigotry that you don’t have to look very far to find.

Recent speeches in the House of Lords here in London about equal marriage were prime examples. Gays being lumped together and viewed as some sort of worryingly negative influence on pure, straight society. Described as being “good with antiques” by people who influence the path of legislation in this country.

Sorry to point this out, but every gay man and woman is also a member of society. We work, learn, sleep, eat, commute and pay taxes just like the rest of you. And we deserve the same level of respect and protection you would afford anyone else. No more, no less.

As someone who left Dublin to move to London – for no other reason than postgraduate training – I can only imagine what kind of anger I’d feel if I’d been in this guy’s place.

And for straight, bigoted people from well-funded organisations to try and stifle his justifiable anger?

Disgusting.

For RTE, the state broadcaster funded by Irish taxpayers, to hand over piles of cash to said organisations? Doubly so. Like Panti says – if you are actively trying to prevent equal status for gay men and women in the eyes of the law, then you are nothing but a homophobe.

Don’t act the injured party when you’re trying – hopefully in vain – to slow down the development of equal rights. Ireland is holding a referendum on same-sex marriage next year. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2010.

Yes, I’ve experienced my own fair share of homophobic nonsense. The vast majority from otherwise sensible people telling homophobic jokes when they didn’t know there was “a gay” in the room. I’ve never lost my job. I’ve never been physically threatened or attacked.

But having to ask…sometimes plead…for equal status under the law. Yes, that’s demeaning and it’s oppressive.

Please… watch this impassioned speech and think twice before you think it’s okay to deny someone their rights based on who they love.