May 23, 2011

The Queen She Came To Call On Us

He thought he saw a buffalo, upon the chimney-piece.
He looked again, and found it was his sister's husband's niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said, 'I'll send for the police'
from The Mad Gardener's Song, by Lewis Carroll

He thought he saw a sweet old lady admiring the gardens by the river, but when he looked again, this mad gardener found it was a wise monarch healing the divisions between her people and the peoples of this island.

Islandbridge, indeed.

By any account, this has been an extraordinary week in our island life, and each of us here has been moved in their own way by the words and deeds of Queen Elizabeth as she made friends and deeply influenced people. Her visit had added resonance for me, as it put Islandbridge, the place for which I named my business, firmly on the map, and for so many good reasons.

For most people, Islandbridge is an unfamiliar part of Dublin, its name only heard in occasional traffic reports. Many people would struggle to say where it is exactly. For me, there are strong family associations with the place. My dad played there in the fields and worked in the market gardens as a boy, and rowed on the river above the bridge as a young man. I was born a long stone's throw from the spot, and remember crossing it with friends to get to the playground of the Phoenix Park beyond.

When it came time to name my new business back in 2004, I knew I wanted to locate it by land and water (for enterprise has always sprung up in these places). As I crossed over landscapes in my mind, I naturally came to the banks of the legendary river of the city where I was born, and walked its length, stopping briefly to consider Leixlip (or Salmon's Leap, which struck me as a bold name for a new business) before coming to rest at Islandbridge.

(You'll appreciate that I gave neither Ballsbridge or Butt Bridge a second's thought...)

I liked Islandbridge for all of the childhood associations they held for me, but most of all because it seemed to me to indicate something of what we do for our customers. There is a gap between buyer and seller, and it is the task of the brand-builder to bridge it.

But of course a brand does so much more. It takes nothing at face value but helps the trader to look beyond the thing itself to understand what it means for the other person. And in understanding what that means, the brand honours it. That for me is why the visit of a sweet old lady to my Islandbridge is even more powerful.

She understands that she is not just any old lady. She understands too that she is not even any old monarch. She is someone who stands for so much more in these islands. For some of us, she is the familiar face of a once-oppressive regime. For others, she represents the core of their cultural heritage, the head of their church and the source of their identity. Others again see her as a dinosaur, a relic of another age with no relevance in this.

But this week, she stood for something else again, something that really matters. This week, she played the part of healer, acknowledging the hurtful divisions, and somehow rendering them less painful, less relevant. In honouring our dead, and charming our living, she helped us to find a way to connect again with these neighbours of ours who are so maddeningly like us and so maddeningly not like us. Which is, of course, the case in all extended families.

She also changed for me the meaning of my Islandbridge, and made it even sweeter, more significant and more powerful. For if a little old lady can make such an important gesture at Islandbridge, what can a mad gardener do for the courageous entrepreneurs who make their way to that place?

He thought he saw a queen of hearts, bow down before the flowers.
He looked again, and found it was a crown with healing powers.
'If she mends hearts,' he did declare, 'we'll make her one of ours.'
(with apologies to Lewis Carroll)