The material culture of the Irish diplomatic table
Drawing on the archives of the Irish Department of External Affairs, this paper will trace the material culture of the Irish diplomatic table.
A project to furnish government buildings and Irish Embassies with identifiable Irish tableware began in 1946. It was sparked off by a request from the Minister for External Affairs who considered that the items used for catering in the Ministry building in Dublin were ‘inappropriate for the service of official meals to distinguished visitors on his behalf’. The Minister requested that a high quality dinner service of simple ‘dignified design and bearing the official crest of the State’ along with a suitable service of glassware be supplied for official entertainment. The request was to mark the beginning of a project which would continue over the course of several decades and involve a network of civil servants and merchants from Dublin to the four corners of the globe. It would encompass generations of silverware, glassware, pottery and porcelain manufacturers and involve transport and freight companies navigating international customs requirements and worldwide events.
State dining has been shown to define the social, cultural and political position of a nation’s leaders (Albala, 2011; Baughman, 1959; Strong, 2003) and has been used by rulers for centuries to display wealth, cement alliances and impress foreign visitors (Albala, 2007; De Vooght and Scholliers, 2011, Young, 2002). This paper will show how the Irish government set out to establish itself in the eyes of the international community in the first years of the Irish Republic and how its material culture was used to communicate Irish identity. From purchasing a specific deep freeze for the London Embassy in the early 1950s to choosing basket-type fires for Embassy drawing rooms or uncovering a set of original watercolours of silverware for the Ministry for External Affairs which had lain unnoticed for nearly sixty years, the research will show how Ireland’s cultural and culinary identity has been, and continues to be shared through the material culture of the Irish diplomatic table.