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Archive for March 19th, 2011

A few decades back there was an Irish politician who implored the warring factions in the Middle East to give up violence because although they were separately Jews and Arabs, he said, at the end of the day they were ultimately all Christians. And even in more modern times, Enda Kenny, our new Taoiseach but back in 2002 just the newly elected leader of his battered political party, caused a bit of an uproar when he delivered a speech in which he related an anecdote about how a Moroccan barman in Portugal had once told him that a cocktail on offer in the bar, the Lumumba, was named after “some nigger that died in la guerre”. “Nigger” is what the barman had said and Enda was merely retelling the story but it caused a storm here at the time. The world has become more sophisticated since and last Thursday at the White House, Enda delivered a speech marking the now traditional St Patrick’s Day visit to Washington by senior Irish politicians. We’re unlikely to ever find out what the host, Barack Obama thought of Enda’s speech and it is not likely to have been a significant part of that day’s presidential work. But I think it worth examining the speech because it is pretty typical of the standard of our new leader’s speeches. Enda Kenny has never been the world’s greatest orator and his skills probably lie elsewhere. That said, the speech from last Thursday was so bad that it might have been diplomatically insulting, it was certainly inarticulate. Here it is, in full, together with comments in bold.

“Mr President, thank you for your warm invitation to join you here tonight.

Fionnuala [Enda Kenny’s wife, but you all knew that right?] and I are honoured and delighted to be here on behalf of the people of Ireland.

On St Patrick’s Day, we remember our proud leaders.

Michael Davitt from my own province of Connaught.

The O’Neills and the O’Donnells of Ulster.

O’Connell of Munster.

O’Bama…of Leinster.

I can tell you, that in the history of the English language, never has a single apostrophe meant so much to so many. [Hmmm, a Churchillian reference which originally applied to the RAF during World War II “never was so much owed by so many to so few” A bit grovelling and not very Irish particularly with our doggedly neutral position in the war, but we’re only starting and it’s good to open with a joke]

Yes – there’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama. [Now this is where Enda really starts making people uneasy. For a start there are some 4m Irish natives in Ireland that would probably claim to be more Irish than Barack. And let’s call a spade a spade here – I’m no expert on Barack’s genealogy but apparently his father’s family is from Kenya whereas his mother was American-born, of mostly English descent with German and Irish figuring someplace in distant history. Indeed you really need go back to the 1850s to a man named Fulmouth Kearney to find Irish ancestry. Fulmouth was from Moneygall in County Offaly in the Irish midlands and is one of the great-great-great-grandfathers of Barack, so you could probably say that Barack is 1/32nd Irish. Of course we are very proud indeed of that 1/32nd being Irish but c’mon “there’s no one as Irish as Barack”? Perhaps we should lighten up and accept that this is meant in a humorous way but it just seems to strike the wrong note]

And Sir, they’re [they will be] queuing in their thousands to tell you [what?], in Moneygall [Barack might just about recognize that placename as the small village in Ireland from where his great-great-great-grandfather hailed, but I’m willing to bet that many in the room were scratching their heads – Money? Gaul? France? Is he asking for a loan?] when you visit us in May.

Let me assure you Mr President that the news of your decision [“decision”? The US made a “decision” to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, surely a softer form of words around the idea of “invitation” could have been framed] to come to Ireland has already caused quite a stir and you can count on a huge Cead Mile Failte [I would have said that half the audience would understand “Cead Mile Failte” – which means “A hundred thousand welcomes” in Gaelic and is a traditional form of welcome address to visitors] from the Irish people.

Tonight, as we gather here in the White House…

We remember the people who began the journey for us….[when you use the word “begin” in the context of Irish emigration to the US, you should be going back to the 16th century, at least – indeed contrary to what you might think of Christopher Columbus, we Irish hold that an Irish monk, St Brendan made it to America in the 6th century]

Driven out by An Gorta Mór – the Great Hunger – when the potato….from the New World failed…..[this was hardly the beginning of Irish emigration to the US. The potato famine in the 1840s certainly directly led to 1-2m emigrants from Ireland arriving in other countries including the US, but Irish emigration, particularly to the US had been a feature of life in Ireland for centuries. Also this is where the speech starts to really descend into schmaltz – “the potato from the New World”]

In scattered lines they make for the quayside.[here Enda is talking in the present tense so obviously he is aiming for some dramatic effect]

Their only sound, the slow slap of their soles on the emigrant flagstones. [and now, he’s definitely starting to take flight into the heavens of literary language]

Herded like cattle onto ships…they know that now is not the time to cry for the typhus, or the cholera. [what does this mean? “cry for typhus, or the cholera”? Does he mean that emigrants had cholera and typhus before leaving Ireland? Do you actually cry from cholera which tends to kill you through dehydration? Is the reason they are not crying that they don’t want to be turned away from the ships at Irish quays because of a fear by the ship’s crew they have cholera? If so are they being selfish in boarding a confined space where they will infect others?]

Or for the gut-busting American corn and the savage segregation of the Workhouse. [what is this about? Why is American corn “gut-busting”? Surely you mill corn to get flour and make bread, why would the end-product be “gut-busting”? And what was the “Workhouse” with a capital “W”? In Ireland we most definitely had workhouses in many towns during the famine where those who hadn’t food or money went and, if admitted, they were given accommodation and food in return for their work. But again what does this reference mean here?]

But ours was not a self-contained adventure. [“adventure”? Does he mean ordeal? ]

On another Atlantic coast, another people were waiting...[And here Enda manages to insult some 1bn people by describing Africans as “a people”. The Irish (all four million of us) are one people and one billion Africans from 50 countries and God knows how many cultures are “another people”]

Waiting to be herded onto ships.

They wait in dungeons.  Blind-prison. Chained, fettered.

Husbands calling out for wives. Wives for husbands. [I’m no historical African anthropologist but is the term “husband and wife” appropriate to the very many cultures subjected to slavery in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries?]

Mothers soothing children, perhaps, not even their own. [at this point I imagine Enda was pinching himself with tweezers in his pants pocket to portray some emotion. This is probably the depth of the schmaltz in his speech]

Singing in notes so small, they can hide among the hymns sung by their captors in the chapel overhead. [What chapel? So the slave-masters were good Christians attending chapel and signing hymns? And the slaves weren’t (see below for more religious controversy)? And what is a small note anyway?]

Two peoples. [Yes the 4m Irish people and the 1bn African people]

On the far coasts of one ocean where, in the words of our Nobel Laureate…Seamus Heaney.

“Tireless waves, came glinting, sifting from the Americas.”

Africa’s Cape Coast.

The shores around Ireland’s Cape Clear .

Two peoples who will cross that dividing ocean.

The Irish to freedom...[The Irish weren’t slaves in their own country. Sure the British ruled the country and demanded allegiance. But Ireland had its own parliament. And whilst there was certainly nothing that resembled a modern day democracy, it was hardly slavery that described conditions generally in Ireland. And just for the record, many Irish were deported to America and Australia to work as slaves eg during the Oliver Cromwell campaign in the 1640s]

The Africans to…slavery [Actually history tells us that slavery was endemic in Africa long before Europeans developed the transatlantic slave trade and in some African territories, over one half of the population was regarded as being slaves. Of course that really doesn’t take away from the point Enda is making]

Though they don’t yet know it, in time, theirs are the genes that will [“help”, presumably, unless Enda wants to insult the remaining peoples of the world beyond Africa and Ireland by claiming the two peoples of Ireland and Africa are exclusively to be credited] build America.

The genes that unite us here at this White House designed by an Irish architect.

To claim [what this does mean “to claim”] and to celebrate St Patrick who came to redeem the soul of a people...[now this is getting quite religious which is generally fair enough in the US, but see below]

And he was a slave [well that’s not really true. Although Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Wales by Irish marauders and was held as a slave for six years in Ireland when he was a teenager, he eventually escaped and fled the country. He then became a priest in Wales/France and it was some years later when he returned to Ireland – as a free man, not a slave – to spread Christianity].

Mr President at Cape Coast Castle, you said it seemed as if the walls were talking.

They might have said,

Respect,

Mercy,

Obligation,

Never…again [and here Enda has a go at the Jews who tend to own that expression “never again” after the Nazi holocaust].

Because I believe the intense, unyielding but compassionate Patrick, unites us here today, not alone in our Irish ancestry, but in our common heredity [what does that mean? It is just about understandable that Enda obviously has Irish ancestry and Barack is 1/32bnd Irish, but what is meant by “but in our common heredity”?]

President Kennedy’s ‘Family of Man’.

Just two weeks before he died he said,

“If our society is to promote the family of man, then let us realise the magnitude of our task.”

Today, I believe we are, indeed, united in this task.

Aware of its magnitude.

Whether the family of man must be promoted across the valleys of Kenya [hat tip to Barack’s Dad’s home], or the mountains of Ireland [fine but he might have promoted the Emerald Isle a little more, perhaps “green fields of the Irish midlands”], or the scattered islands of Indonesia [hat tip to where Barack spent some part of his youth], or today, in the wreckage of Japan [And here Enda insults 130m Japanese people because Japan isn’t wrecked, a large part of the country is suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear plant situation remains a deep concern, but the country is not “wrecked”]

Or whether we must take it, Mr President, to all those still “huddled around radios”. [thus starts a pretty confused and meaningless passage in this speech. The “huddled around the radios” term is taken from Barack’s speech upon winning the presidential election in November, 2008 “And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world: Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand”]

Only this time, the corners are no longer “forgotten”...[What on earth is Enda talking about here?]

They have barged onto our tv screens, ransacked our consciousness, stormed our world. [Again, what is Enda talking about? The Middle East? North Africa? Japan again? The Mayo county gaelic football team?]

This is our task, not alone because we are leaders of our countries. [What is our task? To promote the family of man -well that’s fairly nebulous; shouldn’t a “task” be more specific?]

But because we are fathers…and parents

Teaching our children, our countries’ children about, duty,  and about obligation…

The need to fight cruelty, injustice and inhumanity wherever it happens. [I may be wrong here but wasn’t that Captain America’s motto?]

Our stories, might indeed, be singular.

But we know that our destiny, our children’s destiny, is a shared prospect. [Again Enda is invoking Barack’s “Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared” phrase from his election victory speech]

“Do as I do”. Lead, teach by example.  Create a future from the unknown.

You will visit us, Mr President, in a short time.

I hope when you do your stay will symbolise the life-giving bond between Ireland and America.

We are your gateway to Europe. And I can say right here, right now, that gateway is wide open and ready for business. [Possibly the strongest two sentences in the entire speech]

And with our new government, our new mandate from the people, it’s in good, safe hands.

Mr President we meet, almost at the Spring Equinox, when new light returns to our lives. [That’s very weak indeed. The “new light” surely begins at the winter solstice in December?]

But you will come to us in May…

The start of the Celtic [true, but it’s also pagan] Summer…or as we call it…

Bealtaine…the Feast of the Bright Fires [Bealtaine of course is an old pagan festival. So although St Patrick might have come “to redeem our souls”, we’ll still mark Barack’s visit by reference to paganism. And although Bealtaine was indeed celebrated by the lighting of fires, it was also marked by bouts of partner-swapping as the villagers would go and rut like animals in orgies amongst the newly-planted crops in the fields so as to encourage a good harvest later on. Perhaps better not to mention that one here though]

And when you do you will return to your own people, your own place.

Mr President you will come…home…to Ireland. [Or more accurately, you will visit a small village in the Irish midlands where you will indeed get a warm welcome though there will be small protests against Guantanamo, Iraq and extraordinary rendition flights which may have passed through Ireland’s Shannon airport. In the main though the people will be delighted to see a visit by a symbol of change and hope (still in Ireland, even if the US has become a little unenamoured with you). You are still regarded here as cool. More importantly you represent the massive cultural, commercial and technological produce of the US that is welcomed and devoured here. Mind you, it’s not a one-way trade and the US has benefited from Irish emigration, investment, culture and indeed technology. And even though you’re only 1/32nd Irish, you represent the pinnacle of achievement in a democracy that provides opportunity to even the progeny of a shoemaker from a tiny Irish village]

So, tonight let, let the word go forth from this time and place [from John  Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech in 1961, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”], high and clear into the eaves of this city…[this is not John Kennedy and what does it mean anyway – “high and clear into the eaves of this city” – literally it means nothing in the sense that it is not important for “the word” to end up in the roof gutters of Washington buildings – figuratively I’d guess that he means that the word will be heard in the heavens or will be heard loudly by policy makers in Washington but if he does, it’s a clunky way of expressing it]

That the bonds between Ireland and America are as warm [are bonds warm?] and strong as they have ever been, in the history of our two great countries.

Warm and strong and vigorous

Because we are united…inspired…sustained…by our faith [our religious faith? If so better back-pedal on the Bealtaine reference above] …

Our faith…in the Audacity…of Hope…[at least Barack had a plug for his book entitled “The Audacity of Hope” still available on Amazon.com for only USD $16.50]

So I have no idea what Barack Obama thought of Enda’s speech but apart from the plug for the book at the end, he might have thought that it was quite clunking, hitting the wrong notes and in places, insensitive. And would you ever quit with the slavery leitmotif already. Personally I think Barack would have been left wondering if he had just heard a prime ministerial speech from the leader of the same English-speaking country that gave the world Swift, Yeats and Joyce. Who knows, maybe he thought that Enda had drink taken and was more worried that he might start a fight afterwards. Hopefully he will have taken the speech as an overture of friendship and of a continuing commitment to engage constructively with the US, with whom we have significant relationships. Enda though, needs to up his game as far as giving these keynote speeches is concerned.

UPDATE: 26th March, 2011. A report in this week’s Irish Examiner demonstrates the thinking behind creating this post. In Thursday’s edition the newspaper reported “An EU diplomat said: “Mr Kenny thought the offer was a trap. But his campaign-like speech irked Merkel and Sarkozy and now France and Germany have dug in.”” The paper was reporting on Ireland’s recent attempts to secure a reduction in the interest rate charged on the EU element of the bailout. We have no real information to conclude what Enda said and we can’t easily establish if it was Enda’s speech which apparently “irked” our French and German friends. What we do know is that the interest rate on our EU bailout has not been reduced and that Enda’s speech in Washington was atrocious. So the claim reported in the Examiner is credible.

UPDATE: 31st March, 2011. It’s not clear if it’s describing the same event but Channel 4 journalist and presenter, Faisal Islam today tweets that “So I just got quite an interesting internal account of what happened between new Irish leader Kenny and Sarko/Merkel at the Euro Council” and “”Kenny was v cocky: “we are new Gov, bailout has to change”. Content/ attitude stark comparison to humble Papandreou. Merk/ Sarko v upset”” and “EU source: “Kenny had a terrible impact”. But, also said, that EU more sympathetic because Irish exports are growing vs no growth Portugal”. This is probably referring to the EU summit on 24th/25th March, 2011. It’s completely unverified of course. But I think that it will be worthwhile tracking Enda Kenny’s engagements and communication faux pas (alleged or actual)

UPDATE: 24th May, 2011. The speech in Washington on St Patrick’s Day is now available at youtube here from about 9 minutes in..

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