Ed Leahy savours tradition at a Dublin landmark.
The outstretched arms of Dublin Lockout hero James Larkin are providing some much sought after shade as I enjoy a summer saunter along the Capital's O'Connell Street.
Above Larkin's head, the tri-colour flaps proudly above the centrepiece of the 1916 Rising, the GPO. Behind me, in no particular order, the Sicilian marble of Sir John Gray sparkles in the sunshine, while William Smith O'Brien, the leader of the Young Irelanders and the bauld Danny O'Connell take you down to the Liffey.
Travel north and you'll encounter the priest of The Pledge, Father Matthew, and the great parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell. Another fella called Nelson used to stand tall in these parts, but he has long since departed this majestic avenue on Dublin City's northside.
History is everywhere and a period of contemplation was called for as I made my way into the great lobby of what is, arguably, Dublin's most renowned hotel, The Gresham.
Too late for lunch and dinner a long way off, what better way to take a break from the unseasonal sunny weather than to sample the finery of the Gresham's Afternoon Tea selection?
An age-old tradition, Afternoon Tea was introduced in the early 19th century amongst the English aristocracy, initially as a stopgap between breakfast and dinner.
From there it developed into a social occasion, leading to the verse, "At half past three, everything stops for tea" – a phrase that still holds strong throughout the workplaces of Ireland today.
The Gresham Hotel dates back to 1817 when Thomas Gresham purchased 21-22 Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) and renovated the former family homes into a hotel.
The Gresham is a Dublin institution and the hotel's roll of honour of famous guests can compare with the best as ABBA, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Richard Harris, Daniel Day-Lewis, Thin Lizzy and Bob Marley have all stayed beneath this Dublin 1 roof, not to mention President Dwight D Eisenhower, Grace Kelly and Muhammad Ali.
And there is such a sense of the city's culture and history in the immediate vicinity of the hotel and O'Connell Street. As Bang Bang and Lugs Brannigan walked the streets, entertainment of varying degrees was offered at the Monto and the Mero, both within a stone's throw of the hotel, while the Garden of Remembrance, Moore Street and James Connolly's Citizen Army at Liberty Hall tell tales of the battles fought on these streets throughout the Gresham's lifetime.
Partaking in a bout of Afternoon Tea at this great Dublin landmark allows you to ponder such great events and characters that have walked these hallways or passed by on the magnificent boulevard beyond the grandiose Georgian windows.
On such a sunny day, the Champagne option set the scene, followed by the most wonderful of sights as the three-tiered platter arrived at the table.
Almost too pretty to disturb, the appreciation period was proportional to the time it took for the tea to draw in the pristine silver teapot that accompanied my mid-meal feast.
Etiquette must play a big part in the partaking of the Afternoon Tea experience, but with no guidebook or expert to advise, it appeared obvious that one would start at the bottom and work one's way up to the daintier of the trays atop the platter.
The savoury selection on ground level included open smoked salmon, fennel and salad, smoked ham, mozzarella and fig, beef and lettuce, turkey and lettuce and the classic cucumber, yoghurt and lettuce.
The quality of the pot of tea, I imagined, would be indicative of the hotel's Afternoon Tea ranking - a silver tea-pot essential, the hotter the handle, the better. Tea leaves and a dainty strainer (also silver), again, fundamental.
The sandwich section was demolished (yes, including the cucumber option) and we were elevated to the next layer, where fresh cream appeared to be the central theme.
The barm brack and Madeira cake would have to be tackled before the fresh cream meringue and cream and raspberry concoction could be approached. The champagne and tea interludes were working well together, as it happens.
Another interval before the top tier was sampled. More cream – a swirl atop a puff pastry vol au vent with summer berries, mini scones (jam and cream to accompany) and a selection of shortbread.
Just one delicacy stood in my way of completing the clean sweep and while I certainly didn't need the rich chocolate cake, it was with gluttonous glee that I devoured the thin but far-from-thinning tart.
A daily pastime for the rich aristocrats of foreign lands and times past perhaps, but for a leisurely afternoon to celebrate an occasion or to catch up with old friends, the Afternoon Tea option really should not be ignored.
For more information, visit: www.Gresham-Hotels-Dublin.com.
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