What with the Queen’s visit last week, Leinster’s amazing victory over Northampton to win the Heineken Rugby Cup on Saturday, and US President Obama’s visit today, Ireland is enjoying a healthy amount of positive publicity at the moment.
Barack Obama kicked off his tour of Europe today with a visit to Ireland during which he met the President and the Taoiseach before travelling to his ancestral home of Moneygall to meet locals and drink Guinness in Hayes’ Pub. He then returned to Dublin and gave a speech at College Green which went down a storm
For those who asked – I got hold of a transcript of the speech in full:
Hello Dublin. Hello Ireland. My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.
Someone once said broken Irish is better than clever English. So here goes; Ta athas orm le bheith in Eireann – I am happy to be in Ireland!
I want to thank my extraordinary hosts, Taoiseach Kenny and his wife Fionnula, President McAleese and her husband Martin, and I want to thank the Garda for letting me crash this party. And I want to pass on my condolences at the recent passing of the former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald. Someone who believed in the power of education, in the potential of youth, and in the power of peace, and who lived to see that peace realised.
And I want to thank you, the people of Dublin and Ireland, for the welcome you have given us. It certainly feels like a hundred thousand welcomes. And I feel even more welcome after that pint that I had. I feel even warmer.
And I want to pass on the greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans. I knew I had roots on this side of the Atlantic, but until recently I did not know I had Irish roots. But now, if you ask the Corrigan brothers, there is no-one more Irish than me. So I want to thank the genealogists. It turns out that if you run for president, people start taking a bit of interest in what you do. I wish I’d known it earlier when I was running for office in Chicago, because Chicago is the Irish capital of the Mid-West, where they say you can hear the brogue of every county in Ireland. And I wanted as a politician to take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade. And they’d only let us go right at the back. Well, I bet those parade organisers feel pretty bad. Because this is a pretty good parade right here.
Now an American doesn’t really need Irish blood to know that ours is an ancient shared history with strong bonds and shared values. So I am here as American president to reaffirm those bonds of affection. Earlier Michelle and I dropped by Moneygall to stop by the local pub and meet my eighth cousin Henry, who we know affectionately as Henry VIII.
And it was incredible to see the town where a young shoemaker called Falmouth Kearney lived his life and set out by ship for New York, and made a new life, and married an American girl from Ohio. He settled in the Midwest. It’s a familiar story – it’s one known by Americans of all backgrounds, because it’s part of who we are, a nation of immigrants from all over the world. But as I was standing in Moneygall I thought how heartbreaking it must have been for all those people, leaving Dingle cliffs and Donegal homes, in the hope that a better life was possible, supported by nothing more than faith – faith in the almighty, faith in the idea of America. And they passed on that faith to their children, and to their children’s children, and to their great-great-great grandchildren like me. They call it the American dream. It’s a dream that we’ve carried forward, sometimes through stormy waters, sometimes at great cost, for more than two centuries. But we’re grateful that they did take those chances, because otherwise someone else would be speaking to you right now.
We’re grateful to you, because no other nation so small has inspired so much. Irish signatures are on our founding documents, Irish blood has been spilled on our battlefields, Irish sweat has built our cities. You can say there’s always been a little green behind the red, white and blue. When the father of our country, George Washington, needed an army, it was the fierce fighting of your sons that caused a British general to lament: “We have lost America through the Irish”.
When we strove to blot out the stain of slavery, we found common cause with your struggle against oppression. Our great abolitionist Frederick Douglas formed an unlikely friendship with your great liberator Daniel O’Connell.
When Abraham Lincoln struggled to preserve our young union, more than 100,000 Irishmen joined our struggle, with green flags waving alongside our star-spangled banner.
And when an Iron Curtain fell across this continent and our way of life was challenged, it was our first Irish president, our first Catholic president, who made us believe that man could do something as big and bold as walk on the moon, who made us dream again. That is the tale of America and Ireland, our brawn and blood side by side, making and remaking a nation. I think we all realise that both of our nations have faced great trials in recent years, including recession so severe that many people are still trying to fight their way out, and many in this enormous audience worry about their own futures. Parents worry what it means for their children. Will they inherit futures as big and as bright as the ones that you inherited? Will your dreams remain alive in our time? Well, this nation has faced these questions before. When the land could no longer feed those who tilled it. Yours is a nation marked by the hardest of trials and deepest of sorrows, but it is also a nation that overcame repression and famine and beat all the odds. I know that our future is still as big and as bright as our children expect it to be. I know that because I know it is precisely at times like these, at times of great challenge and times of great change, when we remember who we truly are. We Irish and we Americans, who never stop trying to find a better future, even in hard times, by investing in things that matter most, like family, and community. We remember in the words made famous by one of your greatest poets, in dreams begin responsibility. this is a nation that has kept alive that responsibility by trying to keep alive the flame of education, and I see the young people now, among the best-educated in the world, and I know Ireland will succeed.
Today, people who once knew the pain of an empty stomach now feed those who hunger abroad. Ireland is working hand in hand with the United States to feed those who are hungry around the world, because we know what crippling poverty is like, and we want to help others.
This is a nation that met its responsibilities and inspired the world when they saw past they years of pain and mistrust to form a lasting peace on this Ireland. You, the Irish people, persevered, and you made your votes count, and you showed that for all the intractibility of our humans, the irrepressible human nature to love kept nagging and nudging us towards reconciliation. You will have to sustain that irrepressible impulse, and America will stand by you always in your pursuit of peace. You must understand, Ireland, that you have already so surpassed the world’s highest hopes. what was remarkable about the Northern Ireland elections was that they didn’t attract that much attention – not because the world has lost interest, but because that once unlikely thing has become real.
In dreams, begin responsibility. Embracing that responsiblity and working towards it, that’s what makes dreams real. That’s what Falmouth Kearney did, and that’s what so many generations of Irish men and women have done in this spectacular country. That is something we can teach them, Irish and Americans alike. Your best days are still ahead. Our greatest triumphs, in America and Ireland alike, are still to come. If anybody ever says otherwise, that your problems are too big, think about all we’ve done together, remember that spring time is just around the country, and respond with a simple creed: Is Feidir Linn! Yes We Can! Thank you very much Dublin. Thank you very much Ireland. Thank you very much everybody.