Wednesday, September 17, 2014
   
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The city of power and influence

A Kilkenny man designed the White House and an Ulsterman burned it to the ground... COLIN McALPIN explores Washington and investigates...

YOU have to hand it to the Irish, we turn up everywhere to contribute greatly to local history, though not always with good intentions.

Take for example James Hoban who was born in Callan, County Kilkenny. He it was who in the 1790s designed the original White House, built between 1792 and 1800, and take General Robert Ross who was born in Rostrevor, County Down.

He it was who in 1814, during the War of 1812, stormed the city and torched the home of the US President. And back to James Hoban, who along with fellow architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe re-designed the existing building … no stopping the Irish, eh?

Washington was famously, or infamously, built on a swamp but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the world’s great, iconic cities; a city that never fails to fascinate and intrigue. Even if we have never been there we all know what the White House, the Capitol Building, the Washington and Lincoln Memorials and the Smithsonian Museums look like. Washington has become part of our lives, wherever we live.

It is a city that positively reeks of power and influence. The buildings are large, imposing, solid in their certainty, forever watching us with a beady eye and leaving the visitor with the feeling that they know everything about us and could, if they chose, tell stories that would chill and thrill us.

I had the perfect first-hand experience of power and influence while being shown around the famous Willard Hotel, just around the corner from the White House, by the charming Kimberly Allen-Mills, the hotel’s Director of Human Resources.

The lobby was awash with men and women in stern business suits, clutching briefcases and gathered in conspiratorial groups. It was, explained Kimberly, a lunch for members of the International Monetary Fund. She guided me past a row of serious-looking men talking quietly into their jacket sleeves to show me the room where the guests were about to dine.

You can be reassured by a warm, fuzzy feeling of contentment that though we are all going broke, that though the world’s economy is in freefall, the bankers are living and eating in some style.

To read the rest of Colin McAplin's feature on Washington and see all the pictures, pick up a copy of Northern Ireland Travel News...

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