No Shrinking Violets — Frank McNally on sexy hotels, the rewilding of Trinity, and a revolutionary Anglo-Irish florist

Petal power in the capital

Before spending a strike-enforced night in the Frankfurt Airport version last week, it had escaped me that Dublin now too has that mark of edgy sophistication, a Moxy Hotel.

But there it was as I strolled down Sackville Place at the weekend, just as funky as the German one – or possibly even more so given the promotional pictures in its Marlborough Street window of cool customers queuing at the bar in their underwear.

A Marriott group creation, the Moxy brand is aimed at “millennials”, who obviously enjoy that sort of thing. But for some reason, the window display also reminded me of a north Dublin housing development from a generation ago, at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

“Belmayne”, as the developers called that, was launched by an English soccer star and his wife and also employed scantily clad models to evoke the “gorgeous living” it promised.


The original residents would be middle-aged now, it occurred to me as I continued along Marlborough Street. I wondered how they were getting on these days and if life had stayed gorgeous for them. At least in the Marlborough Moxy, I thought, you only have keep the image up for a weekend at a time.


A correspondent who prefers to remain unnamed asks if I can raise “the lamentable state of the main entrance to Trinity College, fronting onto College Green”, now that its summer wildflowers are in abeyance. “Recently I walked by it for the first time in a while and it reminded me of nothing more than a winter-time haggard on a small farm in any part of rural Ireland,” he writes. “Can someone at this august educational institution explain what version of eco-wokeness is being pursued here?”

His email continues: “Personally, I have no problem with wildflower mini-meadow there in summer months, but for the other half of the year, a simple grass lawn is surely the sensible approach.”

Speaking of lawns, this reminded me that Myles Na gCopaleen, who kept a Cruiskeen Lawn in these pages for many years, once proposed that he be commemorated with “a statue in College Green, my back turned to Trinity”, a hint as yet untaken by the city managers.

We can only imagine what Myles would have made of the college entrance’s latter-day rewilding. As for its established statuary occupants – Oliver Goldsmith (his head permanently stuck in a book) and Edmund Burke – they don’t seem to care.

Even so, passing the haggard myself at the weekend, I noticed that the grass is now leaping up around them up in large, unlawnlike tufts.

And as a retired farmer, I hate to see good grazing go to waste. Whatever about mowing, I wonder if there might be a case for at least putting a cow in it (a sacred one if necessary)?


Not only can Dublin boast the relics of St Valentine – at the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street – but as reader Imelda Murphy reminds me for the day that’s in it (and speaking of wildflowers) the city can also claim shares in the woman who invented modern floristry.

Constance Spry (1886-1960) was born and died English. As young teenager, however, she was replanted in the South Dublin rose garden known as Alexandra College and spent formative years there before moving to Co Kilkenny, when she married for the first time.

She started work as a lecturer on hygiene and home care for the Irish Women’s National Health Association, set up to counter the scourge of TB, and was later secretary of the Dublin Red Cross until she fled Ireland in 1916, a victim of domestic rather than political violence.

Remarried in London, she was 40 by the time she took up flower arranging, but soon made her name with revolutionary window displays incorporating weeds and wild flowers, combined with unusual recycled objects as containers.

Spry went on to write a small library of books on the subject. By the height of her career, she was official florist at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. She died in January 1960 and, in a model for managerial delegation, her supposed last words were: “Someone else can arrange this.”


My thanks to Michael Foley – a former theological student, not my ex-Irish Times colleague – for putting me right about a little part of Rome that is forever Irish: the Via degli Ibernesi. That, he points out, is where the Pontifical Irish College was founded in 1628. But it is not where the modern college stands. Napoleon shut down the original in 1798. The current version – where the Irish Cultural Centre in Italy was launched earlier this month (Diary February 1st) – is on the Via dei Santi Quattro.

That address should have stuck in my memory for two reasons. The first is that I stayed there once, briefly.

The other is that, being of a certain age, I found myself thinking of the street as Via de Suzi Quatro.