By Neil Halligan
Major St Patrick's Day celebrations planned in 2021 at 15,000 capacity Jubilee Park
A structure dating back 5,000 years – older than the great Egyptian pyramids – provided the inspiration behind the design of Ireland’s Expo 2020 Dubai pavilion, which is revealed for the first time today.
Newgrange in Co Meath is an ancient passage tomb that is lit up completely once a year at the time of winter solstice when sunlight shines through a 'roofbox' and floods the inner chamber.
This effect will be recreated in Dubai through Ireland’s Expo pavilion, which organisers hope will ‘inspire’ visitors to take a deeper interest in Ireland’s culture and history.
Based on a theme of ‘Ireland – Island of Inspiration’, the design of the 900 sq metre pavilion is modelled on the megalithic Newgrange lightbox, giving visitors the opportunity to experience one of the wonders of Irish innovation and creative thinking.
Inside, the pavilion will be divided into three distinct areas.
The first is the pavilion’s ‘Oculus’, a 360-degree seated virtual immersive experience that will provide visitors with a sensory impression of Ireland, telling the story of the country's rich 5,000-year history.
The second area is the ‘Garden’, a space designed as a square within a square with an open roof and roofed internal perimeter – bringing to life both the European cloister and the Arab garden.
The garden will also be a performance area for live artistic performances through the six months of Expo 2020. The third area in the pavilion will be an innovation lab.
The Ireland pavilion will feature a daily ‘Be Inspired’ programme spread across four thematic quadrants The Irish Fantastic (5,000 years of myth, legend and literature); The Irish Scientific (5,000 years of innovation); Irish World Changers and Trailblazers and Global Ireland. Each quadrant will comprise one major event, alongside an ongoing series of performances, talks, workshops and activities. The full programme will be announced closer to the opening of Expo 2020.
Earlier this year, the Irish government approved a multi-million plan proposed by the Department of Foreign Affairs to support Ireland’s Expo 2020 Dubai plans to deliver “a facility and event space in Dubai with appropriate activities to promote Ireland in this significant international forum”.
The pavilion is expected to be finished in July 2020, Aidan Cronin, Irish Ambassador to the UAE, told Arabian Business.
He said Expo 2020 is “an opportunity to really raise Ireland's profile in the UAE and across the region, particularly our culture profile because there's a real appetite here [in the region] for cultural experiences. Ireland has so much to offer in that regard.”
In keeping with Expo 2020’s plans, Cronin said Ireland has a legacy plan of its own.
“What I would like as part of our legacy of our involvement in Expo would be increased awareness of Ireland across the board.
“I often call it a springboard or platform for the rest of my time here and for the Irish here. This is a real chance to get them involved.
“This is not a six month project. The end of Expo is the start of making use or taking advantage of the doors that it will open for us here.”
Cronin said above all, he wanted visitors to the pavilion to enjoy their visit, which has prompted much of the thinking behind its design and interior.
“It will tell our story but it has to do it in a way that's enjoyable and accessible to visitors, a lot of whom will not be familiar with Ireland. We want to inspire them to learn about Ireland.
“Our message is that Ireland is a great place to visit, it's a great place to work and invest in, and a great place to do business. Our pavilion will convey that in a fun and attractive way.
“With 180-plus countries taking part, the challenge for us is to make an impact because there's a lot of pavilions and countries trying to stand out from the crowd.”
During the course of the six months, the pavilion is expected to receive numerous high-profile visitors from Ireland, including the Taoiseach (prime minister).
“I would expect that we would have quite a few high level visits because this is an opportunity to promote Ireland in a place that has a lot of opportunity for Ireland. Obviously I would love to see the Taoiseach of the day, but also the relevant ministers.”
Ireland’s pavilion has the ideal location in the Mobility Zone for visitors, beside the 15,000-capacity Jubilee Park and Irish Village.
Cronin said there are plans being readied for a big celebration next year around the country’s national holiday on March 17 2021. with some well-known acts expected to come over from Ireland.
“St Patrick's Day 2021 will be a focal point for us and we expect that we will have the Jubilee stage on March 17. I can't tell you who will be on stage yet but it will be great,” he said.
The pavilion’s ‘Garden’ area will also host events year-round, some special Irish guests.