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"I laugh when people talk about a U2 masterplan; I think people helped us because they took pity on us." — Larry

Bono leads U2 on freedom trail

- March 20, 2000

by Joe Humphreys

It was a tribute to Dublin and its people which only Bono could have pulled off. "Free thinkers, free drinkers, freedom to take off the blinkers."

He smirked as he repeated the line, marvelling with more than a hint of self-mocking at his own ingenuity.

He seemed to be wondering, as we all have done at some stage down the years, how he managed to skate the thin line between genius and awfulness but never fall flat on his face.

"If there is one idea this city treasures above any other," he declared, "it is freedom.

"Freedom to make noise, freedom to make a lot of noise, freedom to make your point, to say what you want to say, freedom to be a pain in the ass . . . freedom to criticise, the kind of freedom Aung San Suu Kyi has been denied, freedom not to fit in . . . "Freedom to be uncool, freedom to be a one-off, freedom to believe in God at a time when it's hard to imagine God believing in you, freedom not to believe, freedom spiritually, freedom sexually, freedom politically."

With The Edge softly playing a guitar beside him, Bono's eulogy grew more sentimental by the minute.

But, as ever, he had a serious punchline.

"We come from a tribe of refugees," he said, "and now it's our turn to welcome the refugees.

"That's the real test. And will the refugees who come to Dublin, will they feel the freedom of the greatest city we've ever been to? I hope so."

Fittingly, Bono was granted the last word for Saturday night's freedom of the city ceremony, taking to the stage after the three other members of U2 and the band's manager, Mr Paul McGuinness, had received their awards and made their speeches.

At a pQ X conference earlier, the band's lead singer described it as the "the highest honour that we have ever received or will ever receive." It was all the more humbling to get it from a city "not predisposed to flattery".

More than 10,000 people crowded into the newly-opened Smithfield Civic Plaza for the event.

While they didn't get the concert that was originally promised, they did get a few tunes from the newly-honoured freemen of Dublin.

Only four tunes to be precise. But it seemed enough to send most people home happy, at least those who didn't end up paying 30 for a ticket from the touts outside.

Compere for the evening was the Lord Mayor, Ms Mary Freehill, who was joined on stage by Dublin city councillors.

Dressed in their ceremonial robes, they looked not unlike a backing group of gospel singers especially when they began to sway from side to side during U2's rendition of One.

In her citation, Ms Freehill praised the band for "what they have done with their success to help those who need help here in Ireland and abroad".

She added: "You contributed to Dublin's change of image abroad but more importantly you helped change the way we saw ourselves.

"Dublin's current success has many fathers but I am talking today to five of them. It is an honour on behalf of Dubliners to say thank you for the inspiration."

A Waterford crystal sculpture of the Joshua Tree and a scroll was presented to each member of the band and the manager.

Mr McGuinness described it as "a great gift from a great city".

Adam Clayton, the self-proclaimed "blow-in" said "to be accepted as a Dubliner and to be able to call Dublin my home is a very, very special thing".

The Edge gave thanks to his parents for not moving to Birmingham when he was a child.

But the biggest laugh of the night went to Larry Mullen jnr when he mixed up his lines and suggested U2 had done more for Dublin than the reverse.

He got the next best laugh for thanking the other three boys "for being in my band".

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