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Why are Bono and The Edge grazing sheep in Stephen's Green in 2000? It's their right as Freemen of the City

Barack and Michelle Obama are soon set to have some interesting privileges in Dublin.

 Bono and the Edge of U2, take two lambs to graze in Dublins St. Stephen's Green, to exercise the rights given them after they were awarded the Freedom of City.
Bono and the Edge of U2, take two lambs to graze in Dublins St. Stephen's Green, to exercise the rights given them after they were awarded the Freedom of City.
Image: Joe Dunne/Photocall Ireland

FORMER US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will soon become the 82nd and 83rd people to be awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin.

Lord Mayor Brendan Carr’s proposal was ratified by councillors at yesterday’s monthly council meeting.

Carr had sought to present the Obamas with the Key to the City, securing their places on the list of select few who are presented with one of the city’s highest honours.

But who has been awarded with the honour in the past? What does someone have to do to get the award? And what are their duties once it has been received?

Past recipients 

The recipients of the Freedom of the City of Dublin are a varied bunch, from politicians to peace activists and charity heads to artists and musicians. The Irish Home Rule politician Isaac Butt was the first person to receive the honour way back in 1876.

Since then, the Freedom of Dublin has been awarded to such figures as:

  • George Bernard Shaw (writer) (1946)
  • Eamon de Valera (politician) (1975)
  • Maureen Potter (writer) (1984)
  • Akihito and Michiko (emperor and empress of Japan) (1985)
  • Gabriel Byrne (actor) (1999)
  • Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian leader) (2001)
  • John Giles (footballer and pundit) (2014)

Councillors also backed Barack Obama’s fellow Democrat John F Kennedy, who was awarded the honour in 1963 on his visit to Ireland.

What requirements are there to be given the award?

The right to bestow the award of the Freedom of the City is the Lord Mayor’s alone, but it must get the support of a majority of councillors.

The guidelines on DCC’s website state that the award “acknowledges the contribution of certain people to the life of our city. It also bestows honour to important visitors to Dublin”.

The person can from then on be referred to as Freeman or Freewoman of Dublin. They also become honorary citizens of the city.

Other than that, there appears to be no more rules around awarding the honour or what comes after.

However, there are some (not so) important ancient duties and privileges that must be taken into account.

For example, ancient privileges include:

  • The right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates, without paying customs duties.
  • The right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries.
  • The right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections.

The right to pasture sheep includes in modern-day College Green (formerly Hoggen Green) and St Stephen’s Green. Which is why U2 members Bono and the Edge decided to bring some sheep grazing when they were bestowed with the honour back in 2000.

However, it’s not all green fields and rolling pastures, there are some ancient duties that need to be fulfilled also:

  • Each Freeman/Freewoman has to be ready to defend the city from attack
  • A Freeman/Freewoman can be called on to join a city militia at short notice

It may be safe to say that Barack and Michelle Obama won’t be joining any Dublin militias any time soon though.

Read: The Freedom of Dublin for Barack Obama? People are divided

Read: Keep an eye out … These two men are officially allowed graze their sheep on Stephen’s Green from today

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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