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Dan Mulhall: the ambassador who defied categorisation

Shortly after Patrick Hillery became minister for external affairs in 1969, a friend in Co Clare asked him how he was getting along with “that crowd in Iveagh House”. Most of them were alright, Hillery said, although he got the impression that some of them looked in the mirror when they got up every day and said, “Good morning, my Excellency.”

Only a handful of Irish ambassadors are so self-regarding these days, and few would now compare their minister to “a bungalow, with nothing on top”, as one distinguished figure did many years ago, only for a loyal colleague to repeat it back. Today’s diplomats are less boozy too and none now follows the routine of a long-departed ambassador who had a drink delivered to his desk every morning. It was gin and tonic with ice but no lemon because, he said, the fruit soaked up too much of the gin.

Iveagh House still produces the occasional eccentric, along with diplomats who are painfully shy or who would prefer to be at home, sharing Uncle Matthew’s view in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love that “abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends”. Some overcompensate in the opposite direction, becoming so enamoured of their host nation that they become advocates for it rather than emissaries to it.

Postmistresses and punters

The late Alan Watkins famously divided British prime ministers into bishops and bookmakers, placing the po-faced Anthony Eden in the former category and Harold Wilson in the latter. A similar exercise for Irish ambassadors might divide them into postmistresses and punters, with diplomats of both sexes eligible for either category.

Guided by the iron principle that, if it’s a minute past five and the grille is down, you can’t buy a stamp, postmistresses excel in multilateral institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. Their meticulous attention to detail and unswerving commitment to the letter of the law makes them excellent drafters of resolutions, conclusions and declarations, where the placing of a comma can make the difference between success and failure.

More like a high-class hooley than a diplomatic reception, it was an evening of poetry and song, performed by the guests themselves

Punters are more outgoing, more flexible and often more at ease with the social dimension of diplomacy, acutely aware of the power of personal relationships and more comfortable with bold action and taking risks. If you want a clause inserted into an EU resolution, you need a postmistress, but if you are taken hostage or jailed in a dangerous place, send for a punter.

Dan Mulhall, who is leaving London in a few weeks after four years as ambassador, defies categorisation, as did a farewell event at the embassy this week. More like a high-class hooley than a diplomatic reception, it was an evening of poetry and song, performed by the guests themselves.

Mulhall’s posting to London started with the sweet harmony of the President’s visit to Britain but it has been dominated by a succession of political ruptures

Labour MP Conor McGinn sang The Band Played Waltzing Matilda in honour of Mulhall’s Australian-born wife Greta, who has made as lasting an impression in London as the ambassador. Community activist Sally Mulready, a member of President Higgins’s Council of State, sang Raglan Road. There were readings from Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy and poem after poem by Yeats, as Mulhall roamed the floor, chivvying the great and good into singing for their supper.

Mulhall’s posting to London started with the sweet harmony of the President’s visit to Britain but it has been dominated by a succession of political ruptures, starting with the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and climaxing in Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year. He brought a depth of historical knowledge and insight to the commemorations of the first World War and the 1916 Rising and great passion to Yeats’s 150th anniversary year in 2015, tweeting a line from the poet every day.

The success of a large embassy like London or Washington depends not only on the ambassador but on the legacy they inherit and the team around them. But the ambassador sets the direction, the tone and the pace and Mulhall has been focused, judicious and relentless. Like many departing ambassadors before him, his ears are ringing with praise and with promises that he will never be forgotten and that no one will ever be able to replace him.

The praise is sincere and well deserved but as he prepares to move from Brexit Britain to Trump’s America, Mulhall is about to start the cycle that will leave the same words ringing in Washington a few years from now. During the party, before he rounded up other performers, the ambassador read Seamus Heaney’s poem Postscript, which ends:

“You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

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www.webuiltthiscity.org.uk

We Built This City - if you missed the exhibition or you want to revisit it for a second look visit our webpage www.webuiltthiscity.org.uk

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Showband Stories

Call out for stories from Ireland’s showband era of the 1950s-70s

Local people with memories of the halcyon days and nights of dancing to showbands are being sought to retell their tales as part of a new publication due out later this year.

The book - ‘From the Candy Store to the Galtymore’– aims to provide a mirror into this unique time in the life of rural and urban Ireland through the stories of the young men and women who religiously went to their local Ballroom of Romance each weekend.

The aim of ‘From The Candy Store to the Galtymore’ will be to detail the experiences of ordinary folk who attended the hundreds of ballrooms of romance which mushroomed around the country at that time.

The book will be co-edited by PJ Cunningham and Dr Joe Kearney. The editors stress that they are seeking particular stories rather than people just remembering that Joe Dolan or Brendan Bowyer or Dickie Rock played their local hall.

“Obviously the same bands played all over Ireland so it would become repetitive if every story mentioned seeing the Drifters, the Royal or the Miami showbands,” explained PJ Cunningham.

“What we want are the stories of romance, of chance meetings or tales that are funny and maybe even mischievous,” he pointed out.

“All human life gathered for the weekly dances in what was a cultural shift away from the more formal céilí dances which held sway up until then.

“The showband dances were modern and slightly brasher occasions than the country had been used to but if anything the number of stories of love and loss, rows and ructions, fun and games grew in the new cultural and entertainment environment,” he added.

“Ideally,” said co-editor Dr Joe Kearney, “there should be a bit of tension or drama involved in what people send into us. That way, we will be able to deliver a more rounded collection.”

“When you consider that there were maybe 200 or 300 bands traversing the country every weekend and there were dance halls sprouting up all over the place, then a serious amount of interaction was inevitable,” he emphasised.

Dr Kearney also remembers his own youth working in London. “Throughout my time over there in the sixties, many of us spent our time in poor accommodation in Cricklewood, Kilburn, Manchester, Liverpool and places further afield.”

“We lived for the visits of the Irish showbands to provide a flavour of the life we had left behind and provided an escape from the humdrum of ordinary living.

The Galtymore, The 32 Club, The Gresham and the Hibernian in London were meccas for us. They were packed to the rafters every time Irish showbands played there,” he recalled.

How to contact editors

Dr Joe Kearney (087 2633041) joe.kearney@eircom.net.

PJ Cunningham (086 8217631) pjcunningham1@gmail.com

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Photo Me

Photo Me

Launch of Irish Online Passport Application services

across major UK cities via Photo-Me photobooths

Birmingham, 19 June 2017: Photo-Me, the secure digital photo provider, has launched its Irish passport renewal service to Irish citizens residing in the UK via its photobooth network across Great Britain.

The first UK-located photobooth with this service was installed on Friday at the Birmingham Irish Association in Birmingham, with the Irish Ambassador to Great Britain, Dan Mulhall, in attendance to test out the new booth.

In the UK, the service is initially being rolled out in major UK cities including Edinburgh, Newcastle Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and London via Photo-Me’s existing site partners, which include major supermarkets.

The service is highly secure, fast and cost-effective. Customers using the Photo-Me secure digital photo service receive a unique passport photo code along with their printed photos and instructions on how to complete their passport application online, within just minutes, on the Irish passport application website www. DFA.IE/passport online. The unique code allows the applicant to access their digital online ID photo, transferred securely from the photobooth, and attach it to the online passport application. The entire passport renewal application process now takes less than ten minutes.

Access to the Photo-Me service by Irish citizens living in the UK follows the launch in March of this technology across Ireland in partnership with the Irish Government, which will see rollout of 300 photobooths with the secure online passport renewal system throughout Ireland by the end of 2017. By the end of 2017, 98% of the population of the Republic of Ireland will live within 5km of a Photo-Me secure upload ID photobooth.

Serge Crasnianski, Chief Executive of Photo-Me, said:

“Identification security is an ever increasing area of concern for governments across Europe and our system offers secure digital photo ID capture, collection and delivery for official documents. We are delighted to extend our fast, easy use and cost effective service to major UK cities, simplifying the passport renewal process for Irish citizens located in the UK.”

Dan Mulhall, The Irish Ambassador to Great Britain, said:

“I am delighted to see the Photo-Me Irish passport photos being extended to Britain.

The new online passport renewal system has already proven to be very popular, providing a fast and efficient service. The new Photo-Me Irish passport service will hopefully make it even easier to use this system here in Britain.”

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Q&A session with the Ambassador Dan Mulhall

Ambassador Dan Mulhall will be visiting the Birmingham Irish Association to hold a Q&A session about Brexit.

Friday 16th June 4pm until 6pm 

St Anne's Parish Centre, Alester Street, B12 0PH

Yvonne@birminghamirish.org.uk or through the 'contact us' link. 

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We Built This City.

We Built This City 

Launched by Ambassador Dan Mulhall the exhibition celebrates the Irish contribution of the building of Birmingham.

Photos and memories from huge projects such as the NEC, NIA, the Rotunda, Spaghetti Junction and the Queensway tunnels. not forgetting the contribution from  nurses, bus drivers and factory worker. There is a free newspaper capturing the memories of men and women that went home to Ireland as well as a short documentary - We Built This City In Our Own Word - You Tube

We are delighted the exhibition has been extended until 7th June 2017. Come along to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, The Community Gallery. 

The project is funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund

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A Saint Patricks Day Message from the President of Ireland

St Patrick’s Day provides a unique opportunity to increase awareness of Ireland and Irish values worldwide.

There are currently 14 St. Patrick's Day festivals held in Britain. The first was held here in Birmingham back in 1952.

Watch the 2017 Saint Patrick's Day message from President Michael D. Higgins, below.

Watch the 2017 Saint Patrick's Day message from President Michael D. Higgins

You can read more about St. Patrick's Day 2017 on the DFA website by clicking here.

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New Dementia Support Centre

We are delighted to announce that alongside the Dementia Support centres we currently hold on a Thursday and Friday at Saint Annes Parish Centre in Digbeth, a new centre will be opening in February. The new centre will be at the Sheltered housing scheme common room in Steele Grove, South Yardley starting on Tuesday 7th February. If you know of someone who would be interested in attending this centre please contact Trudy or Yvonne on 0121 604 6111 or email info@birminghamirish.org.uk.    

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