Thursday 14 November 2019

Brian learns we haven't changed much in years since 1911 Census

Brian Hayes must've been mightily relieved when he was released from the naughty step by Enda last month and forgiven for taking the wrong side in Fine Gael's unfortunate spot of ructions last summer.

The Dublin South West TD missed out on a seat at the Big Table, but was given a junior job with the important-sounding title of Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Public Sector Reform.

But little did Brian know what awaited him in the Public Works part of his portfolio. For how was he to know that Queen Elizabeth II was coming to visit? And not only that, but herself plans to do the tour equivalent of a Full Irish Breakfast and will be inspecting several public works that are now in Brian's tender care, including the Rock of Cashel and the National War Memorial Gardens. Sure the woman is doing everything bar being held upside down to kiss the Blarney Stone.

And so the new Minister for Monuments is going to be a very busy chap, whizzing around sites in Dublin and Tipperary and the like, mowing lawns, plastering over cracks and giving castle walls a quick lick of paint.

One place that isn't on the queen's schedule (yet) is the Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum in Dublin -- but just in case, Brian spent a happy hour or so yesterday afternoon taking a tour of this fascinating place before he was due to attend the launch of the Census 1911 exhibition in the stunning museum.

And with the 2011 Census due to take place tomorrow night, Glasnevin's resident historian Shane MacThomais highlighted some uncanny parallels between Dublin then and now.

"In 1911, the city had a new tramway system, there was rising unemployment, a new Government in power, and they were talking about building an underground," he explained, to the amusement of Brian. But all this boils down to one word -- tourism.

For as the financial Ice Age continues to keep so much of the economic activity of this country in the deep freeze, tourism is seen as one way to expedite a thaw. And so tails were up in Dublin 11 yesterday, with much talk in Glasnevin of the benefits of placing the 1911 Census online to allow people in far-flung places to trace their family trees back to Bohola.

There was also plenty of discussion about the possible tourism rewards to be reaped from the back-to-back visits next month of the British monarch and the American president.

Also at the launch of the Census 1911 exhibition was the British ambassador, the affable Julian King, who's been at the receiving end of some intense lobbying from representatives of a string of towns and villages around Ireland explaining why the queen should drop by the neighbourhood.

"Many of them put forward really strong cases," he said.

And Brian enthusiastically embraced the good-for-Ireland-Inc philosophy -- which is a heck of a lot easier than tip-toeing through the historical and political minefield surrounding the visit of herself.

'I think it's going to be so significant, her visit here and President Barack Obama," he said. "It's going to be a great opportunity to showcase the country at a time of the year when we're trying to get tourist numbers up. And in terms of tourism potential, about three million British tourists come here every year and it's worth about €1bn to the economy."

And the fact that Her Nibs will be in Ireland for a whole four days means Brian's going to have to iron more than one good shirt for the occasion.

"What's very significant about Queen Elizabeth's visit is the very extensiveness of it -- she's going to many parts of the country and she's thankfully going to many OPW sites as well, so we'll be delighted to welcome her there," he said happily.

Well, well -- would Brian ever have thought being in charge of the OPW would be so much craic?

Irish Independent

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