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Let’s Walk and Talk

The War Memorial park Credit: Claire Behan

The War Memorial park Credit: Claire Behan

It is two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and roughly 100 people are gathered outside the courthouse of Kilmainham Gaol. They are about to embark upon a free ‘walk and talk’ tour of the surrounding with renowned historian Pat Liddy.

The walk is part of a Dublin City Council initiative called ‘Let’s Walk and Talk’ which has been running for nine years, with over ten free walks taking place across Dublin every week between February and October.  The initiative came about following 2007’s embracing ageing initiative, but this is far from an activity aimed solely at the elderly. With no lower age limit, the walks are open to everybody, and the group is littered with tourists, mothers with prams and history buffs, along with a sizable portion of retirees.

Today’s walk takes place on a sunny September afternoon and there is a pleasant sense of anticipation in the air as the crowd wait for their guide to announce that the tour is starting.

Within moments, Mr Liddy gives a signal, hoists himself onto a bench and begins to explain today’s route. He is keen to emphasise that the tour will not be dominated by talk of the 1916 Rising as one would expect, but of information he hoped was new and exciting.

Liddy’s manner is light-hearted and the crowd hangs onto his every word. His talk is often punctuated by gales of laughter or murmurs of interest from the crowd. It is plain the he is very well liked and according to John Bradley, one of the participants in the walk, this is one of the main reasons why his walks are so popular.

“He (Liddy) has a very nice manner. He’s very informative and his tours are very enjoyable to take part in,” said Mr Bradley.

The next port of call is across the road at the Royal Hospital, where again Liddy avoids associating the place with 1916 and focuses on the hospital’s long and fascinating history.

At this point it becomes clear that many of the group are on familiar terms with Mr Liddy, with many seemingly taking part in this particular route for the fifth or sixth time, something that amazes Mr Liddy.

“Some people have been going on these tours as long as I’ve been doing them. I try to keep things fresh and new, but I think what brings a lot of people back is the social interaction. The chance to walk and have a chat with new people, said Mr Liddy.

The walks seem to be as much about the social interaction as they are about the historical content and it seems that a lot of people are very familiar with one another. It is this familiarity that allows people to interject Mr Liddy’s talks with their own bits of information. Something Mr Liddy feels is extremely important.

“This is how it should be,” claimed Liddy. “It’s called a walk and talk. We all do the walking so surely it shouldn’t be only me doing the talking.”

After the Royal Hospital the tour heads for the spectacular War Memorial Gardens at the Long Meadows on the banks of the Liffey.

Here the tour concludes. It has taken just under 90 minutes and everyone goes their separate way feeling satisfied with the day’s work.

By Shane O’Brien

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