It was short and sweet but a lot of hard work was needed for Robbie Henshaw to deliver those 70 words in Irish to the audience at New Zealand’s most important historic site last Sunday.
The Leinster and Ireland centre had sought out his primary school teacher sister Ali to help him brush up on his native tongue after he stepped forward to represent his country during the British & Irish Lions’ national welcome from the Maori at the Carved Meeting House on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
“I said thanks for having us, it’s great to be here. I’m from the Midlands in Ireland and just thanks very much to New Zealand, it’s a beautiful country, a beautiful place. It was short and sweet,” Henshaw, 24, said.
“I didn’t think I’d have to bring it (his Leaving Cert Irish) down to New Zealand and take it out of the locker. It’s been locked away there for 10 years, I haven’t spoken Irish in a long time. I felt a bit of pressure before it and I was a bit nervous getting my language back and obviously getting my accent back. It was tricky enough.”
As a former Connacht man, Henshaw was deemed the most suitable candidate among the 11 Irish Lions to represent their culture during the ceremony as the 41-man squad ran through songs from all four constituent nations, including the Fields of Athenry.
“We had a discussion and seeing as I played in the west of Ireland, and it’s an Irish-speaking area, I was directly in line for it. It was pinpointed between me and Tadhg Furlong but I was asking him a couple of days before if he wanted to go for it, but he had to prepare for the game so I had to take it on. It was nice to be able to get up and speak on behalf of the Irish and to show the Irish culture within the set-up.”
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