‘Are you going to offer your research on emotional resilience?’ asked my very good friend when the call for papers for the 3rd EMCC Research Conference arrived. ‘Hmm, I might’ I responded, trying to sound nonchalant and feeling slightly anxious at the thought. ‘I tell you what’, I said, ‘I’ll offer my research on one condition: that if I’m successful you come and co-facilitate the workshop with me.’
So we agreed, and suddenly, here we are, in the City of a Thousand Welcomes. How could I have known it would be so special?
I’d never been to Dublin and we agreed to spend a couple of extra days so that we could enjoy the city. After only a small panic the night before the 8.30 Aer Aran flight (the UK is apparently part of Eire as far as luggage restrictions go) we escaped conspiratorially in the early morning, before the world was awake. I didn’t know my friend is phobic about flying, so I hadn’t realised quite what I was asking. With the help of modern science (the toy plane that really flew and the Diazapan) and my almost non-stop whittering, we reached Dublin without mishap in time for late breakfast.
And here we are. Dublin. The home of so much culture. The air shuttle coach from Dublin airport sets us down right outside Trinity College, which will be our home for the next 4 days. As we walk through the gate in the morning a glittering sea of tourists is ebbing and flowing through the entrance. A friendly Irish voice invites us to join the tour of the College, including the book of Kells, hardly practical while dragging suitcases, but an exciting prospect for later in the week.
At the accommodation office the young man (surely a student ?) seems genuinely pleased to be able to tell us that our rooms are clean so we can check in. He hands us the check-in pack and explains … He listens carefully to our questions and though he can’t immediately tell us the best place to get a late breakfast, he promises to continue to give it consideration as he guides us through the paved and cobbled courtyards to house 49. He’s as good as his word ‘Bewleys’ he says. ‘That’s a good place to go for breakfast. It’s just down the road in Grafton Street. You can’t miss it.’ And he gives us directions. ‘What’s the conference about?’ he asks with genuine interest. ‘It’s the European Mentoring and Coaching Council conference’, says my companion. ‘And it’s a research conference – so about research surrounding mentoring and coaching’. ‘That sounds interesting’ he says – as though he means it. ‘We hope so. At least we’re running a session so we hope that will be’. ‘What’s it on?’ he asks politely. ‘Developing emotional resilience for leadership’ I answer, wondering if that sounds far too pompous. ‘Within education’ adds my friend. He continues to ponder. ‘It’s about how leaders manage to remain resilient even when things get tough’, I volunteer. Negotiating the downward steps in front of us, still showing the way ‘so what would be an example of that?’ ‘Well,’ I explain, ‘supposing you had to make half your workforce redundant for financial reasons and they’d worked with you for a long time and been very loyal to you – that would be a hard thing to do. It would test your emotional resilience.’ We continue walking in the sunshine. There’s a long pause and I wonder whether he’s decided it’s not worth engaging in conversation further. But no – ‘whose decision would that be?’ he asks. ‘Ultimately the leader of the organisation’. He seems a bit puzzled. Maybe inexperience suggests to him that leaders can opt out of what makes them uncomfortable. Then ‘what do you need to do, then, to be emotionally resilient?’ ‘The first step is to look after yourself’, I say. ‘That’s a view I keep hearing’, he says ‘But it’s not quite that simple’, I add. And it’s not.
But that’s for tomorrow. Today, we are enjoying the city. Excellent coffee and scones at Bewleys, a fascinating gracious building with tea dance décor, sculptures (we learn) by the owner and sweeping wooden staircase to tables upstairs. Someone has recommended the open top bus tour. They were right. City Tours hop-on hop-off bus does us proud. Sitting high up in the sunshine listening to the commentary (also available on headphones) we are drawn to the heart of the city. I begin to understand how it inspired so many artists. Passing the top of Gresham Street, slight traffic delay allows us time to see the large crowd which has gathered to watch a fire-eater on stilts. Alongside and across the River Liffey, through Georgian Dublin, where my eyes are drawn to a sign for the Little Museum of Dublin. We resolve to do the whole tour and then decide where we will take time to walk. The buildings are jaw-droppingly beautiful. How, in our ignorance, could we have imagined that the Post Office, home of the Easter uprising of 1916, was such a monument to neo-classical architecture?
We decide to walk through the Georgian quarter and seek out the museum which caught our eye on the tour. It’s not as straightforward as we imagined. It’s hard to keep in your head the route of a bus tour in an unfamiliar city. We know the approximate area, but even the off-duty drivers of the bus tours are stumped as we move from one group to another, asking for directions. Finally, one checks out the bus route and makes a suggestion. It leads us to our destiny – in more ways than one. We arrive at The Little Museum of Dublin in St Stephen’s Green with only 30 minutes to closing time. Today – Wednesday afternoon – it’s free to enter. It is the place we have been unconsciously searching for since we arrived. As we follow Ireland’s history it draws us up the stairs where our attention is arrested by the gentle music of the Irish lilt: ‘My mother always said I could talk for Ireland, and now I’m doing it!’ From a back room we hear a commentary .. ‘do come and join us’ says Trevor, interrupting his oration to the group of 15 or so visitors. ‘Does anyone know who this is?’ he says, pointing to a photograph. ‘Charlie Haughey’ responds a voice. ‘And for the benefit of our visitors, would you like to tell us who Charlie Haughey was?’…
Photographs and artefacts, contributed by the people of Dublin, connect us with Sinead O’Connor, the Lockhards, (you’ll have to visit to find out their story) and the journey from colonialism to independence. My companion picks out a picture of the Irish writer Colm Tóibín and my education continues. Upstairs, we are treated to an exhibition of photographs by Brendan Walsh capturing the heart of the city. One that haunts me is the black-and-white image of a group of pre-pubescent boys seeking an adrenalin rush, leaping from one narrow ledge of a high building to another. Some wait their turn; some have already made it. One is caught in mid-flight, arms outstretched, hands straining for the opposite ledge, caught in a moment in time perhaps symbolic of Ireland’s own struggle to move from colonialism to independence. Will he make it or plunge to his death? I leave feeling anxious about the boy, praying that he did indeed reach his destination.
Tomorrow the conference gets underway. We will focus again on sharing the research into emotional resilience for school leadership. I remember the conversation with the young man who took us to our rooms at Trinity College. ‘It’s important to look after your own wellbeing, and connect with what feels nourishing and meaningful’ I’ve said. First step? You could hardly do better than to book a trip to Dublin with a good friend.