Enda draws on America’s family tree

IT wasn’t the man he had travelled across the Atlantic to see. But when Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday found himself in the same Washington Hotel lobby as Duke Special he would have been forgiven for asking the Belfast songwriter for a rendition of his hit I Never Thought This Day Would Come.

After so many years watching the other side take part, Enda’s day had finally arrived to hand over the bowl of shamrock and give the White House what will be close to its 60th piece of Waterford Crystal, becoming the only leader to do so in his eighth day in office.

He did not need any help from the songwriter in his hotel to charm the Americans with romantic words. With a twinkle in his eye he spoke of bringing the friendship that has blossomed for years a step further with his big proposal.

“Tradition has it, for generations, we’d get down on one knee and ask: ‘would you like to be buried with my people’,” Kenny explained to a group of business leaders. “That was before we got those rings from Tiffany.”

Diamonds may be forever, but the Mayo man was luring the yanks with talk of “your people” and “our people” with ties going back hundreds of years. “We are one people, he said. The family of man.”

There was Tip O’Neill, the longest-ever serving Speaker of the House and “a true son of Ireland”; Congressman Peter King who is chairman of the Friends of Ireland; Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley and Enda’s own grand uncle, “the lighthouse keeper on the Brazos River in Texas”.

And then of course, there is the man Enda had waited so long to meet, having joined a 3km queue in Denver three years ago to see his acceptance speech when he was nominated as the Democratic candidate for the presidency.

“I will meet for the first time with the man whose family, in the late 1800s, moved from Co Offaly to Deerfield in Ohio,” he told a gathering of the Irish American Fund Gala in Washington last night. “Yes, there is no one as Irish as Barack Obama.”

The Taoiseach pleaded to America: “I ask you tonight, stay by our side.”

Making his own proposal, he said he wants America to “support us, partner us” to “mind us and look out for us”.

With melancholic prose he told how Ireland had been “shaken, heartbroken” but that “we will do whatever is needed to recover, painful as it might be.”

With Enda Kenny taking the stage, in what was one of his first big speeches as Taoiseach, there was no need for Duke Special singing Sweet Sweet Kisses on the piano.

“Our shared past, our shared future — Ireland and America, always in each other’s interest, always side by side,” he said.

“This visit is the start of a new life-giving dialogue,” he proclaimed.

“Ireland and America, faithful and true.”

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