For a city of a thousand welcomes, we kind of outdid ourselves with more than 2,500.
That’s 2,500 ordinary ers; locals who love their city enough to volunteer to take a visitor for a pint, have a chat, and share a few personal recommendations for the city. That’s the plan anyway, for the City of a Thousand Welcomes initiative that launched only yesterday, on the city’s own Bloomsday. Locals ready to make good on our warm, cuddly reputation for friendliness include Bill Cullen of the Irish Apprentice, painter Graham Knuttel, former Miss World Rosanna Davison, Senator David Norris, and… me.
On this sunny Bloomsday evening, I await my ambassador duty in the awfully impressive Ivy-clad Georgian building that is Welcomes HQ. Simon O’Connor, one of the two clever minds behind the idea, explains the process to me before my visitors arrive. The eager Dubliner (me) fills out a little questionnaire, drops it into the office and has a little chat with Simon. After vetting by the police, the ambassador selects their time slot, and in no time they are tapping nervously on the coffee table like I am now as my visitors run a little late.
A knock on the heavy Georgian door signals that New Yorker Alexandra and her mother Maureen have arrived. Simon introduces us, they flop on the couch from the effort of trying to find the building, and are asked to choose which Dublin institution I will be taking them for a drink in: the , or the .
Bewley’s it is. Simon waves us off and we ramble down Grafton St past the Bloomsday-ers still in costume from their alfresco reenactments in front of . I point out the Harry Clarke windows in Bewley’s tea room, while insisting they see his masterpiece in the , and we take our seats upstairs in the James Joyce room – perfect for the day that’s in it.
And so began a lively conversation about living in Dublin, rent prices in Manhattan, yoga styles, James Joyce copyright, and how they could spend tomorrow; their last day in Dublin. I declared they must mine me for information as their moonlighting ambassador was in fact a writer for the tourist board by day. As they shouted out questions, musings, and wonderings about the city, I circle the relevant spot on their map. Good Irish knitwear? Red ring around store. Interested in Dublin 100, 200 years ago? Circle around the , and beside it for lunch. I explained how the discovery of Viking remains had halted building there, and recounted the story of Ireland’s prized Carravaggio with dramatic pauses and wild hand gestures befitting of a lost and found masterpiece.
The sun had long left the café terrace as I asked my visitors what they thought of the experience. Really enjoyed it, they nodded, and thanked me for a wonderful evening. No thank you, I said, invigorated by seeing my city through a visitor’s eyes for the spell of a cup of tea. We all hugged, and Alexandra announced that there’ll always be a room in her place in New York City for me.
As I took a photo around our well-empty coffees, a lady at the next table offered to take a photo of all three of us. Getting the bill for Maureen’s ice-cream, my coffee and Alexandra’s tea, the waiter revealed they were all covered by our Bewley’s Thousand Welcomes voucher. I was suddenly proud of my little city, for pulling this off and allowing visitor and local such a memorable experience. Long after I directed my New Yorkers to Dublin’s best bookstore, my smile still hadn’t faded.
If you’re keen to meet a Dubliner for a drink, just sign up on the City of a Thousand Welcomes website.