Aaah, that's Bertie

 

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, drinks Bass and in Moscow they know all about it. Last week when he and Celia Larkin paid an official visit with a large business group it was specially ordered for the huge party in the embassy, thrown by new ambassador David Donoghue and his wife Jill, and for a nearby Irish pub. The beer mats arrived too, so in each place there was a big promotion for Bass - the fine English ale.

Bertie - whose party included press officer Joe Lennon, the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Paddy McKernan, and Dan Flinter of Enterprise Ireland - stayed in the presidential suite at the Metropol which has been restored to its pre-revolutionary glory and features ornate fountains, gold cherubs and live harpists. Fyodor Shaliapin used to sing from the gallery overlooking the huge glass-roofed diningroom.

The bombs put a damper on the visit, but as well as the official engagements Celia presented a minibus to an orphanage which has been adopted by the local Irish community and Bertie went to Silvers, owned by Coalisland man Stephen Conway, for a pint of Bass. It is not the best-known Irish pub (there are several in Moscow), but then he could hardly go to the biggest and smartest, Sally O'Briens, as it is a Fine Gael haunt since it was opened by Alan Dukes some years ago and then frequented by John Bruton on his official visit in 1995.

With the downturn in the Russian economy, the Irish have retreated from Moscow. Where once there were several hundred, now there is a couple of dozen Irish people living there. It was noticeable that many in last week's trade delegation were promoting colleges and language schools. It's risky, and not just financially, doing business in Moscow, but as the nouveau Russians are so anxious that their kids learn English, there is money to be made by bringing them here instead of us going there.