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Belle of the Ball

The Campanile

The Campanile

It was a photograph that triggered the memory like they so often do. As I turned the page of my newspaper I noticed the group of happy revellers as they celebrated and danced the night away at the Trinity Ball. I smiled and cast my mind back to the first time that I had been there on a warm, May night many years before.

The Ball, as everyone called it, was the best night out in Dublin, and that time Peter and I were determined to make it a night to remember. And with that in mind we invited girls that we knew only slightly – but fancied a lot. When they accepted our invitations we were walking on cloud nine, and suddenly in a desperate search for dress suits. We spent the next few days running from one dress hire shop to another but without any success. It was all getting a little nervy and panic wasn’t far away. The high demand for suits was making it impossible to get anything suitable and our big night was beginning to look in doubt. However, after many, anxious phone calls and much scratching of heads Peter’s uncle saved the day. He was part-owner of a theatre costume company and when we dropped in to see him, he put us right.

‘I still think that you boys would look better as a pair of pirates – I’ve plenty of eye-catching stuff upstairs. Want to check them out?’ he said before laughing out loud.

He’s mad, I thought, and stared at him.

‘I wouldn’t worry about him’, Peter said when we left the shop ‘he’s always like that. He loves playing games on people. He’s a real messer.’

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and planning, the big night finally arrived. My mother said that I ‘looked the part’ while my young brother said I looked like Fred Astaire or maybe a gangster. With those thoughts in mind Peter and I went to collect the girls, with two bunches of flowers on the back seat of his dad’s car.

Bouquet for a belle

Bouquet for a belle

Jenny looked great in her long white dress and Peter was delighted when she kissed him on the cheek. A few minutes later we pulled up at Shelly’s house and I felt my heat beat a little quicker. My throat dried up as I rang the bell, and when her mother opened the front door I barely managed ‘Hello’. Her friendly smile eased my nerves, but the sight of Shelly coming down the stairs made my heart jump. She looked wonderful in a long, black dress and her blonde hair fell to her shoulders. She was fabulous, a picture that burned itself into my excited brain. I awkwardly handed her the bunch of flowers and she smiled her thanks. After a quick sniff she took one out, broke the stem off and stuck the red bloom in her hair. Suddenly she was like an exotic Spanish dancer and I beamed my approval.

Our excited chatter lasted all the way into the city where we had booked a table at Nico’s Restaurant on Dame Street. This was really pushing the financial boat out but it didn’t matter one little bit. The place was buzzing and we had a great time and lots of laughs. The night had started well, and many of the diners wished us well as we left the restaurant and walked to Trinity College where a long, noisy queue was moving slowly.

Music from the festivities reached over the old building and people were dancing and singing as the queue made its way to the gate. There was magic in the air and I felt it when Shelly put her hand in mine and we moved with the music. We swayed our way through the gate and entered a wonderland of bright lights, colourful tents, fun and music.

‘Let’s dance,’ Shelly said and we skipped off to the old Exam Hall where a band was whipping up a storm. The place was manic and I had never seen such a frenzy of excitement as the band upped the pace. It was brilliant and Shelly loved to dance – and boy could she dance! She didn’t mind my clumsy efforts and laughed when I almost fell over trying to do some fancy turn. She doubled up and a stream of happy tears shone on her face. She said it didn’t matter and that I was actually better that most of the other guys anyway.

When the band finished we left and walked about for a while taking in the sights and sounds. Across the cobble-stoned yard a disco blasted out the latest hits while inside a pink-coloured tent unsteady groups were barn dancing. Or at least that’s what it was supposed to be! Looking down on it all was the bell tower – the campanile – from where someone had tied a bicycle with its light flashing. ‘How did they do that?’ asked Shelly as we gazed up wide-eyed.

Let's swing again

Let’s swing again

‘I’ve no idea’, I replied ‘but…I’d hate to be looking for a lift home later!’

The night passed as we danced, swung and screamed on a brilliantly lit chair-o-plane, chatted to friends and watched a very adult Punch and Judy show. And before we knew it the sun was rising and the bright, colourful lights began to lose their sparkle as all around us revellers began to drift away. The music had dropped off as, arm-in-arm, Shelly and I walked across the yard and again looked up at the flashing, bicycle light. ‘Hey, it’s still winking at us.’ I said.

Shelly stopped and looked at me. ‘Yes, and thanks for a wonderful night. It’s been really great fun!’ Then she leaned close and we kissed.

‘Memories,’ I thought now, remembering Shelly, the belle of the ball, on that warm, wonderful night.

Here comes the sun...

Here comes the sun…

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories, trinity college

Trinity College Booksale (20-22 February)

As booksales go the annual one held in Trinity College is one of the best. Spread over three days there is something for everyone and the ‘price is definitely right’. This year is the 29th Annual Trinity Secondhand Booksale and the place will, no doubt, be as busy as ever. All the books are donated during the year by staff and students, and the funds raised are used for the purchase of materials for various college libraries. So, not only are you getting a bargain but helping improve college facilities.

Exam Hall

Exam Hall

The old Exam Hall, a place steeped in history with wonderful paintings on show, is a splendid venue and worthy of a visit in its own right. There you be surrounded in the steady murmur of book hunters searching for bargains as they shuffle from one stuffed table of books to another. The books are usually laid out under various heads; like History, Sport, Science, Languages, Philosophy, Adventure and many, many more. It’s always a treat and you will find oodles to choose from – and at the right price!

As the tables of books are emptied they are just as quickly refilled by volunteers. Many buyers slide cardboard boxes of books from table to table – something that I’ve not seen anywhere else – as they gather their precious finds. You can get a year’s reading here for the price of a couple of new books – and that’s what most people tend to do. It’s a book lover’s heaven – so happy hunting and reading!

A book lover's heaven!

A book lover’s heaven!

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James Caulfield & his Casino at Marino

James Caulfield, the first Earl of Charlemont, was born in Dublin in 1728 and definitely left a mark on his native city. At the age of 18, and with little formal education, he set off on a Grand Tour in the company of a teacher, Rev. Edward Murphy. At the time it was common practice for young men of his class to travel around Europe learning about Classical art and history. They certainly took their time, and Caulfield spent nine years visiting Holland, Germany, Italy, Egypt and Greece where he was particularly impressed by the ancient architecture. He made countless drawings of buildings, and these helped inspire the plans for his pleasure house, the Casino. When he returned to Dublin in 1755 he decided to build his Casino (‘small house’) on land he had been given by his stepfather, in Donnycarney. He renamed his estate Marino after the small town Marino, south of Rome.

Guarding lion

Guarding lion

Georgian elegance

Georgian elegance

During his Grand Tour he had met William Chambers and asked him to design the Casino. Chambers was the most sought-after architect of his day, with buildings like Somerset House (London) and the Exam Hall (Trinity College, Dublin) to his credit. He drew up the plans but, unfortunately, never came to Dublin to see his work completed. However, the work went ahead and it was finished in 1775, and it is considered one of the finest Neo-Classical temples in Europe.  When built, it had a clear and spectacular view of Dublin Bay and the mountains beyond. It is full of surprises and uses plenty of architectural tricks to maximise and display the wonderful Georgian interior. Far from being a single space the Casino has three storeys and sixteen rooms. The lavishly decorated rooms, ornate plaster work and intricate marquetry floors are stunning, and hark back to the Casino’s glory days. Sadly, access to the roof is not permitted at present, and a glimpse of Dublin Bay as Caulfield had will have to wait.

Main Room - elaborate decoration

Main Room – elaborate decoration

And as a Member of Parliament Caulfield needed to be  ‘in town’ and he had Chambers design a town house. This was Charlemont House, Parnell Square, better known since 1933 as the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery. Caulfield was, in his own words, a ‘lifelong learner’ and was a founding member of the Royal Irish Academy and served as its first President. Yes, the man left quite a few marks.

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

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