HE didn’t part the Red Sea, but Barack Obama did transform Dublin’s Dame St into a human river of hope — and for a nation so tired of being on its knees that was miracle enough.
While the song may be wrong when it claims there is no one as Irish as Obama, there is certainly no one as stylish at telling the Irish what they long to hear.
Speaking to multiple transatlantic audiences at once, Mr Obama skillfully used his distant Offaly ancestor’s story of survival to both seduce the Dublin crowd and also anchor himself deep within the American psyche of immigrant achievement and legitimacy back home — important in a country where more than one fifth of voters believed he was lying about his origins until the release of his birth certificate last month.
Dame St throbbed to the sound of tens of thousands of people basking in the attention of one man who knew exactly which emotional pulses to trigger, and which historical bonds to swoon over.
“My name is Barack Obama — of the Moneygall O’Bamas. I am here to find the apostrophe that we lost along the way. Tá áthas orm a bheith in Éirinn,” he purred in a delivery as creamy as the pint of Guinness he had delighted upon in Offaly.
The president then poured some steel into the charm with his message of hope and renewal for an Ireland that had lost its way, but he insisted, would never lose its dream of a better future.
Again, the rhetoric was aimed just as much at Main St, USA, as at Dame St, D2: “Irish blood is spilled on our battlefields, Irish sweat built our cities, there’s always been a little green behind the red, white and blue,” he insisted, linking the destinies of the two nations once again.
Mr Obama knows all the touch stones of a hometown crowd and was eager to praise Ireland’s long struggle against “oppression and occupation” — I wonder if he will use such loaded terms when he and the Queen are sipping cocoa in their jim-jams and swapping Irish tales in Buckingham Palace during his state visit to Britain?
But even Enda Kenny must have realised he was cutting it a bit thick when announcing as he welcomed Obama on stage: “The 44th American president has come home.”
Poor Enda needs a good lie down after this past week as, clearly still high from the Queen’s visit, the arrival of Barack left him so giddy with the auld céad míle Fáilte malarkey it sounded like he’d been main-lining craic.
“Obviously, this is the first occasion in world history I think there has been two bi-laterals with an American president in the space of six or seven weeks,” he gushed as the two sat together in Farmleigh House at the beginning of the day-long visit.
Mr Obama smiled benignly, but clearly did not really rank this and his previous St Patrick’s Day get-together with Enda quite up there in “world history” with the building of pyramids or the invention of the printing press in the way the Taoiseach seemed to.
Nonetheless, the president accepted Mr Kenny’s parting gift of a hurley with glee, warning the Republican-dominated Congress back home what he could do with the stick — but probably not realising that in the handover the Taoiseach had actually been teaching him an illegal up and down “chop” swing with it.
As Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh might have put it: “The president is from Hawaii, the Taoiseach from Mayo — neither of them a hurling stronghold.”
Ah, but Enda’s relaxed into the top job like no one expected, and put on a fierce display in the last seven days of drive-by diplomacy.
But, the Taoiseach really should have cut his warm-up address for the president short after eloquently stating: “Last week, Queen Elizabeth came to our shores and bowed to our dead. The Irish harp glittered above the heart of the English Queen. With pride and happiness and two words of Irish we closed a circle of our history. Today, with President Obama we draw another circle.”
Instead, he rambled on, finally stopping just in time before the increasingly impatient crowd drowned him out with chants for Obama.
The president responded to the ground-swell of genuine warmth in kind, lingering far longer than expected at the end of his speech as he glad-handed the surge of people that flowed around him, even having an impromptu mobile phone chat with one well-wisher’s mother.
It may not have been the president’s best speech, but after two years of critics accusing him of falling to connect, it was certainly the day Barack got his groove back — and the day Ireland got a little bit of its hope back.
After the burst of light that was Obama’s presence, evening fell hard on Dame St. A late rain did much to wash away the traces of the multitude — but the buzz of energy released by the president’s words still tingled long into the night air.
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