Friday, 17 October 2008

2000 March - U2 Being Given the Freedom of Dublin

When we first heard about U2 being granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin we thought it would be brilliant if we could go to see them receive the honour. The only problem was getting the tickets! They were free but you could only get them in Dublin. Our friend Declan managed to get some for us, but we were still two short for Julie and Sharon. Then our friend Elizabeth told us about an offer at a restaurant – have a meal there and get tickets, so Julie and Sharon were booked in for a meal there - we were all set!

The ceremony was at Smithfield Civic Plaza, an area just north of the River Liffey. The Plaza had just been renovated; it was a large cobbled rectangle with twelve 26 metre high poles with huge, as yet unlit, gas braziers at the top. There were also wing-like protrusions about 2/3 up these poles to catch the light. At the end of the plaza was a small stage with a video screen suspended from a crane to the left of the stage. The first two thirds of the plaza was a cordoned seated area, the rest a standing area. To the left of the plaza were newly renovated buildings, on the other side old Dublin still survived, though much of it derelict. Such a contrast between old and new there.

Kelly and Ping’s (wonderful name!) the restaurant that had the ticket offer, was amongst the new buildings, in the equally wonderfully named Duck Lane. I went in the restaurant with Julie and Sharon as I wanted to see what it was like. I heard someone calling my name and some U2 people from America I knew (and had tipped off about the ticket offer) were already in there, I had a chat with them before joining Julie and Sharon. The meal and wine was good - I was official taster - and the girls felt their money was well spent.

After the meal we went onto the plaza, we ended up quite near the back and, being small, I couldn’t see over people’s heads to the stage, but I could see the screen ok. Our friends who had queued up while we were in the restaurant were further to the front.

The entertainment started at 6pm. First on was Juliette Turner who I found a bit boring, next was Belle x 1 who were really good. Dara were next, so-so, and finally Ronnie Drew who was, well, Ronnie Drew!

At 8pm the Civic ceremony began. The gas flares were lit and looked very impressive reflected on the poles’ “wings” gently lighting up the area. The moon, which was almost full, hung above O’Neill’s Hotel to the left of the plaza. The councillors, Aung Sang Kuu Kyi’s son (she was also getting the Freedom of the City that night) but was still under house arrest in Burma so he was representing her, and U2 sat on seats behind the Mayor, Mary Freehill. She talked about the freedom of the City and what it meant. She appeared very nervous and was not a good speaker.

She then talked about Aung Sang Suu Kyi and there was a film of her thanking the City of Dublin for the honour. A beautiful Waterford Crystal eagle was then presented to her son.

Then it was U2’s turn. The Mayor talked about them both as individuals and a group. When praising Bono for his tireless work for Jubilee 2000 he looked both pleased and embarrassed at the same time, shuffling about on his seat. The crowd was really behind them and cheered loudly. The band was then presented with their scrolls and Waterford Crystal Joshua Trees that I thought were ugly! Hope the band liked them.

Then each band member gave an individual speech. Edge thanked loads of people including his first wife Aislinn which I thought was rather nice. Larry started by saying something in Irish, then he got part of his speech mixed up which was funny, but he dealt with it well. Adam’s speech was short but sincere. Bono’s was long, also sincere and witty. He said U2 was for everyone not just for Dubliners, which was rather nice for us foreigners to hear! He spoke of tolerance in all aspects of life and for all people. Then at the end he said they were going to play a few songs – the place erupted, we’d all been hoping for that.

They started with a lovely low-key version of All I Want is You. Then they launched into Desire. Bono dedicated the next song, The Sweetest Thing, to his long-dead mother Iris, it was the first time it had been played live. Bono’s voice was not 100%, he found it hard to reach the high notes, but it was still a treat. The final song was One which was dedicated to “John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams and Big Ian”. There was a wonderful atmosphere, almost like a proper concert and the love of the Irish crowd for “their boys” was clear to see and feel. I wanted it to go on and on, but that was the last song and people soon started drifting off into the night.

I felt extremely privileged to have been there, and was grateful to our Irish friends who made it possible. It was an experience not to be missed and one I’ll never forget.

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