One of our Circle; Anne-Marie Diffley

One of the very best things about being part of The Innovate Room is getting to glimpse into the work of fantastic businesses and being able to learn a little bit about the people who are behind the products…. Over the course of the next few months, we are going to give you a peek into the working lives of some of the lovely people we are lucky enough to encounter.

To start, Anne-Marie Diffley, the extremely talented, well read and knowledgeable Visitor Services Manager at Trinity College Dublin has kindly agreed to open the door to The Old Library and the Book of Kells exhibition and tell us a little about her career journey and give us some insight into what it is like to have one of the most unique jobs in the industry….

Coming from the opposition camp of UCD, Anne-Marie studied History and Politics, her choice of subject reflecting her deep interest in literature and reading. Her first role was in 1980 in the Tourism Office in Dun Laoghaire and the Joyce Tower- where she was bitten by the tourism bug.  Moving to London in 1982 to work with USIT Student Travel she combined her love of travel with her tourism interests and while most of her peers and friends were leaving Ireland in the mid 80’s she returned to work with NITB (the then Northern Irish Tourist Board) first in Clery’s and then  on Nassau Street.

She tells me that she actually ignored the first ad she read for her now role, assuming it was a Librarian that Trinity College were looking for, not a Tourism Manager and believing the somewhat widely held and incorrect assumption that Librarians were in her words “po-faced” she decided this was not for her. She later confirmed to me that Librarians were in fact the best party throwers and she had experienced this first hand! However, upon being encouraged to pursue the role that the second advert clearly stated sought the services of a Visitor Services Manager, it appeared the match was made and the role was hers.

Some 25 years later Anne-Marie fondly remembers her first year at Trinity College, joining in the height of the celebrations of the college’s 400th birthday, it was as she says a “magical year” where they welcomed 286,000 visitors to see “The Book”. When speaking about what draws visitors both then and now (this year nearly 1,000,000 visitors will pass through her doors), she believes that The Book of Kells is the tangible embodiment  of the vision of Ireland as a land of Saints and Scholars – it represents the history of the Island, being an ancient land the origins of The Book can be traced back to the 6th century, it reflects our tradition of saints and religion in the telling of the Four Books of The Gospel and it was created by monks who were the most educated scholars of the time. She tells me that there is an essence of “magic and other-worldness” which emanates from The Book and clearly, that is why when she tells me stories about its creation, the humour it depicts and skill it took to create, I too am held spellbound.

On a light-hearted note, I ask of course, about the VIP tours for which she is responsible. In a rather matter of fact way, she tells me about meeting royalty (HRM The Queen and in fact, a number of Kings and Queens), World Leaders and famous actors and personalities. Given her great and abiding love of nature and the outdoors, her own personal favourite- rather surprisingly- was David Attenborough, who kindly autographed a book for her. She speaks with great respect of Hilary Clinton and her knowledge of and appreciation for The Book of Kells and Irish history, but notably it was Mrs Clinton’s inclusive nature and the time she took to thank all the Library Staff, who largely go unnoticed during state visits, that impressed Anne-Marie the most.

When asked about the greatest challenges facing the Visitor Attraction sectors in Ireland, Anne-Marie tells me that she feels it is marrying the role that technology must play in making the visit easy for tourists while still maintaining the experience and authentic interaction that Trinity College and Ireland is known for. Insightful to the last, she tells me that while it’s important for information to be accurate, tours to be accessible and easy “no-one wants to wait in a queue”, in fact it’s the tangible experience that is made of from what you see, smell and hear that makes visitors to Trinity College return time and again and encourages them to share their stories around the globe.

As our time draws to a close, and I wonder how I will ever be able to convey the depth of knowledge Anne-Marie has on The Book of Kells and The Long Room, the business of Visitor Attractions in Ireland and on Tourism in general – I realise that she has in a totally unique role, a job that exists no-where else in the world, as custodian and host of our history, and some-how, co-incidentally,  I don’t think anyone else in the world could do it quite as well.

Our thanks to Anne-Marie for sharing her thoughts, her stories and her experiences with us.

For more information on The Book of Kells visit https://www.tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells/

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