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August 24th 2020

David Booth

Today’s speaker is District Governor Conny Oversen

Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Aug 26th Russborough House, Blessington, visit at noon led by President Alan Davidson.
Aug 31st Helen Perkins – Visiting 80 Rotary Clubs!
Sept 7th Peace Pipe Initiative
Sept 28th Representative of the Scottish Government in Dublin.

PE Alexander Kopf gave the invocation last Monday.

Rotary Rangers Walks
Sept 7th. Hill of Howth
Sept 14th. Clara Vale, via Lara
Sept 21st. Bray to Greystones
Sept 28th Lough Ouler, Military Road

Social distancing rules will apply. More details are available from PP Brian George.

Hon Sec Tony McCourt gave apologies for non-attendance from Simone Nelson, Alan Harrison, Tony Murray and Paul Martin.

At last week’s virtual meeting there were 19 attendees. Last week Tom O’Neill introduced our only visitor – Simon Braun, from Augsburg Rotaract.

President’s Announcements
• President Alan asked as many as possible to tune in next week to hear what the District Governor, Conny Oversen, has to say. And as we try and come out of isolation he encouraged us to make it to the Schoolhouse pub in Ballsbridge on Wednesday the 19th Aug for an outdoor get-together. If rain was forecast we’d head to the covered rear area of the Sandymount Hotel. A big thanks to Rana for organising that and being our contact person.
• The following week, on Thursday 26th Aug, Alan is organising a visit to Russborough House. We’ll be meeting in the car park at 1.00 p.m.

Members wishing to speak
• Rana said that 8 Rotarians had expressed an interest in joining the outdoor reunion on Wednesday. The weather forecasts were not good so the likelihood was that they’d relocate to the Sandymount Hotel which has an excellent covered area in their garden.
• Derek Byrne asked if there was any update on resuming socially distanced lunches. He will try and get down to the Grand Canal Hotel and see what they were proposing. Any news from District about anything we could do to help those affected by the recent devastating explosion in Beirut? President Alan said District were going to make a response but had ruled out sending Shelter Boxes for the moment. Apparently the President of one of Beirut’s Rotary clubs died in the blast.
• Frank Bannister made the suggestion that we make a list of members who had never attended a virtual meeting and contact them directly to see if we could offer help in logging on or to enquire about their health. Frank has identified about ten. Alan suggested table captains contact those they don’t see. He said we were getting an average of between 22 and 23 at our on-line meetings compared to 25 to 26 prior to the close down. Ethna and Mariandy are usually present though we don’t get them on screen.
• Brian George said we need to be keeping District up to date with our attendance details. Is that being done?
• Hon Secretary Tony reassured Brian that he was doing this.

Ethna on the Airwaves
There are probably not too many members of the club who are regular listeners to Liveline which is broadcast on RTE Radio One between 1.45 and 3.00 pm, Monday to Friday. But at least one member is, and on Tuesday, much to his surprise, he recognised the dulcet tones of PP Ethna contributing (very articulately it must be said) to a lively discussion on the government’s Covid communications. Wasn’t there a time in the club when any member appearing in the media had to pay a fine into a suitable Rotary charity…?

Last Week’s Speaker
Last week’s speaker was John Bruder who was introduced by Tom O’Neill. John said he had been an investment manager with AIB for 21 years and head of their property section. In 2000 he moved to Treasury Holdings, one of the largest players on the Irish property scene, along with colleagues such as Johnny Ronan and Richard Barret who later became notorious. In 2012 he moved to Burlington Real Estate, acting for a range of clients in the Irish market, including the rebuilding of the Frescati Centre in Blackrock in stages. They are now adding 3 floors of apartments, doubling the size of the original centre. How is Dublin evolving in response to what is happening in the wider world? He is a member of the Urban Land Institute, which started in the U.S.A. in the 1930s and is committed to research and education in the planning and development of the urban environment. It’s now a global institution and gives a great window on best practice worldwide and is highly stimulating.

The world’s population has been leaving rural areas and migrating to the cities. By the 1980s there were more urban than rural dwellers worldwide. Towns and cities were traditionally densely populated because for so long they were restricted to being inside city walls. They were a warren of narrow streets with relatively high buildings on either side. In the 19th and 20th centuries there was a reaction against this way of living. Conditions were often poor and unsanitary and the quality of life was not acceptable. There was a move to suburbs and the state became responsible for slum clearance. In Ireland our solution was building urban centres like Kimmage, Crumlin, Baldoyle, Ballyfermot and Ballymun. You can read that at the time Ballymun was the very model of urban planning, based on the European design but the poor management of the estate had not been anticipated and this kind of layout is now considered ‘outmoded’. The 1980s and 90s were dominated by ‘suburban sprawl’ and then the thinking turned against gobbling up countryside far from cities where people worked condemning commuters to longer and slower commutes. Because of the low density of these estates, public transport was uneconomic.

Now there is a move to the densification of existing urban areas – which used to be associated with overcrowding and poor living conditions – but now is seen as the only way to be sustainable from the points of view of global warming and carbon footprint. Density can offer a better life than the garden suburb. ‘Good density’ is the new buzz-word and is being promoted in many cities. Ballymun was a high-rise suburb but actually per hector it was low-density. There were large areas of open ground which had been planned as ‘wonderful amenities’ but were abandoned and became windswept wasteland. The worst case of high-rise development. Areas like Ranelagh, Rathgar, Rathmines, Phibsborough and Drumcondra were densely populated Victorian era developments but all are viewed today as being highly desirable. Density and quality can make a pleasant environment. There is the new ’15 minute city’ concept where people can walk, cycle or take public transport to get where they want within 15 minutes. Density with mixed use. 20th century planners created single use zones. Residential areas without work, office areas without accommodation, industrial areas and specialised retail use areas. You are creating a need to travel between zones so you need a lot of transport to bring people from residential areas to the workplace.

The new idea is to live close to your work and so enjoy more leisure time. If you go down to Dublin’s docklands you’ll see many Google workers living near to their offices. Many do not own a car and they spend most of their leisure time in nearby cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and theatres. Wonder round the docklands in the evening and you’ll see new city quarters that are not just 9-5 pm office areas. Offices may be closed at the moment with most staff forced to work from home but the human interaction is missing and many organisations feel that the office is still the repository of their corporate culture and people will go back to their offices. But will we continue to have giant office towers with thousands of workers in the same building? Ireland is lucky in that many of our office jobs are with hi-tech companies like Google and Amazon whose staff are very comfortable with new technology and are able to be flexible about where they work.

President Alan asked what John thought of Prince Charles’s idea of a model village. John replied that he had visited the town in question in Dorset with a group of architects and planners and found the whole idea very interesting. It’s a small town, a bit of a ‘pastiche’ but like a return to times past with narrow streets, high buildings of 4-6 storeys of apartments and duplexes, mixed with workshops, facilities for parking behind the buildings but largely pedestrianised. He felt this would be the model for future development. Property prices are higher than in other parts of Dorset.

Brian George asked if Dublin City Council are still pushing people out of the city. John said they are trying to educate city makers with the idea of ‘good density’. We still have a feeling that cities are bad places to live and yet we admire cities like Amsterdam, Stockholm and Copenhagen which have much higher densities than Dublin. Dublin is actually a low-density city. We need to get over our prejudice about density. We should not compare Dublin with Spanish or Italian cities because they have a Mediterranean climate and this makes walking around the squares in the evenings a totally different experience. High-rise Ballymun was a bad idea. John wasn’t for high-rise, but all in favour of ‘high density.’ Roger Owens gave the vote of thanks. He had always wondered what Treasury Holdings was as he walked by it nearly every day. Now he knows. He appreciated the incredible vision needed to get the right balance in city planning. To have effective public transport you do need to have a certain density of living and it’s interesting to see how many people will tolerate noise and bustle for the excitement and convenience of living closer to where they work. He asked our president to thank John for a fascinating talk.

What happened in Kerry? By David Booth
My wife bought a restaurant just outside Tralee a couple of years ago so we spent the lockdown developing it as a takeaway and home delivery restaurant and only last month were able to reopen it as The Station House Restaurant. It’s located just across the road from the Tralee windmill, which is the last working mill in the country, built in 1800 by the Blennerhassets who were the local landlords and who gave their name to Blennerville. Blennerville was the port of Tralee until the silting up of the River Lee led to the abandonment of the docks and the building of new docks at scenic Fenit at the mouth of the estuary. During the famine Blennerville was the main port of emigration to North America from Co. Kerry.

During the early 1800s the good burghers of Tralee were worried that their town was in danger of going the same way as Bruges in Belgium which ossified into a beautiful museum piece when its connection to the sea silted up. So in 1832 they lobbied to have a canal built from the Basin Road of Tralee down nearly 3 kms to a lock at the sea where boats could moor at high tide and get away before they were trapped on the mud flats. The picturesque canal was finished in 1846 and its tow path is now Tralee’s equivalent of the East Pier in Dun Leary for Sunday walkers. It never really worked as a trade route and the preference for Fenit at the mouth of the estuary led to a new port being built there in 1890. After falling into disrepair, it was restored to all its shimmering magnificence and reopened by a proud Taoiseach, Charles Haughey in 1990.

The 1880s were boom times for Irish rail. If you were looking for a quick return on the stock market there was for a while no easier way than in investing in railway companies. And as the money poured in, lines opened up to little towns that were never going to justify the expense of building or maintaining them. Percy French was so incensed that the West Clare Railway couldn’t get him to one of his concerts on time that he sued them for damages for lost earnings. When he arrived in Kilkee he found that half his audience had gone home and the court awarded him ten pounds damages. He turned this into one of his best loved songs ‘Are ye right there Michael, are ye right? Do you think that we’ll be there before tonight?

In 1891 a 3-foot, narrow-gauge railway past our restaurant twice a day, chugging along between Tralee and Dingle and having Blennerville as its first stop. It had to tackle the Slieve Mish mountains and the inclines were so steep in places that passengers, it is said, were sometimes asked to get out and walk to help the little train reach the summit. The 31 miles of the line took 2 and ½ hours and was used to bring day trippers to Dingle and on a 6-mile spur on to Castlegregory, and also to bring cattle and sheep to market. When the road from Tralee to Dingle was improved in the 1920s the train wasn’t able to compete with the bus which was able to do the trip in incredible 2 hours and the passenger service was withdrawn. Freight trains continued once a week until 1953.

One of the most colourful incidents on the line was in 1940 when the German spy Walter Simon landed off Dingle by submarine and aroused the curiosity of the natives by enquiring when was the next train to Dublin. He was followed by detectives from Tralee who noticed sand on his shoes, engaged him in conversation and in Dublin received orders to arrest him. Walter spent the rest of the war in the Curragh detention centre, where he may even have met my father who as Capt Lionel Booth showed German prisoners of war a movie he had just made about training techniques in the Irish Army. None of them dared admit they had anything to do with the Wehrmacht but apparently they greatly enjoyed a break from the monotony of their existence and engaged my father in a lively debate.

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