Everybody knows that, from a military viewpoint, the GPO was a bad choice of venue for the 1916 Rising. Among other drawbacks, it was on low ground, surrounded by high buildings, and had too many windows.
But of course it was chosen partly for its dramatic potential, by people who had been poets, playwrights, and even theatre owners beforehand. They were staging a revolution, in every sense. It was ideal for that.
The question of whether the GPO is a suitable venue for a table quiz, by contrast, had somehow never occurred to me until recently. Then a group of hopeless dreamers called the Business Journalists Association of Ireland announced it as the venue for their annual charity quiz, in aid of the Dublin Simon Community.
This too was a rising of sorts, marking the event’s comeback after the long years of oppression under Covid-19. And so it happened that, on Wednesday night just gone, I found myself among the 200 or so volunteers who gathered in the GPO’s historic central hall, feeling nervous but hoping for the best.
In a lifetime of quizzes, this was certainly the most dramatic setting I had yet experienced. On the downside, squeezed between post-boxes, pillars, and stamp-counters, floor space seemed a bit cramped for the 33 corporate teams that had paid €1,000 a table to take part.
Also, I couldn’t help noticing how some tables towards the back of the hall enjoyed a certain invisibility, vis-à-vis the stage.
Concern on this score was doubled by the realisation that my table was near the front, where the possibilities of recruiting Siri or Alexa as honorary team members would be limited.
Still, it felt good to be part of what was clearly an historic occasion.
The theme was taken up by quizmaster Bryan Dobson who, etched heroically against the statue of a dying Cuchulainn, predicted that in years to come, many of those absent would claim to have been here too.
Our cause was then placed under the protection of a most high adjudicator, Prof Niamh Brennan of UCD, who expressed the wish (I’m paraphrasing) that none of the participants would dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or the surreptitious use of mobile phones.
And with that, the first questions were fired.
Venue aside, the quiz was different from all others in my experience for this reason: I had no idea which team was mine until I got there. Neither did any of the other press people present.
An eccentricity of the BJAI event is that each table is allocated a random journalist, from a floating pool.
For some of the recipient teams, this may be a blessing. For others, it may be more like the system of handing saddle-weights to jockeys before a race.
Either way, it puts pressure on the journalist to perform. This had impelled me beforehand to look up a few likely quiz topics: including the architect of the GPO (Francis Johnston); the year it opened (1818); even the identity of the three statues on the roof (Mercury, Fidelity, and Hibernia).
None of those came up, alas. Nor did a question another media man posed over the pre-quiz drinks: “What’s the nearest road to the GPO? (ie the nearest place called “road”, as opposed to “street”, “lane”, etc).” As he had to tell me in the end, it’s Memorial Road, behind the Custom House.
In the random draw, I was allocated to a team called Irish Institutional Property. Their investors would probably have known where the nearest road was. They might even own it. As for the questions we were actually asked, well, those were not as easy.
Despite my best efforts, our team didn’t win. If I was an asset, I was a distressed one by the end.
The glory went instead to FleishmanHilliard, the communications consultants. Whose table, let it be stated, was also positioned near the front of the hall, in full line of fire from both the stage and the O’Connell Street windows.
Teneo finished second and two teams tied for third. After that, in another unusual event, everybody else was fifth, just outside the placings. Or so they claimed afterwards: a story facilitated by the organisers’ discretion in not posting the full scoreboard.
If it was a triumph of failure for most of us, the event raised ¤37,000 for Simon. And as predicted by the quizmaster, lines have already started blurring between who was there and who was not. The total raised include donations from a few companies that officially paid for tables but were there in spirit only.