No one as Irish as Barack O’Bama?
Deaglán de Bréadún
These are tough times and the recession has even begun to bite at my own newspaper with a plan announced yesterday for up to 60 redundancies. But amid the gloom there are still some glorious moments that make life worth living. The Munster rugby team’s barnstorming display against the New Zealand All Blacks in Limerick this week was one. The election of a black man as President of the world’s most powerful country is another.
There is a heavy burden of hope on President-elect Obama. He is doing a good job of binding up the wounds from the campaign. Let’s hope Hillary Clinton takes the job as Secretary of State. Even John McCain is being brought back into the fold through discussions on how the two men might cooperate in the future.
It’s reminiscent, in a different context, of Abraham Lincoln’s attempts to heal the Civil War divisions. US politics is far more consensual than people on this side of the pond realise. There is an extremely strong underlay of patriotism/nationalism, call it what you will, in American life that few Europeans understand or even want to know about.
Where do we Irish fit into all this? Inevitably there are worries that Obama’s somewhat protectionist policies might reduce the level of US investment here. In an effort to save American jobs, he may move against companies which are outsourcing to places like Ireland.
It’s an additional worry we could do without, given the breath-taking decline in the world economy, the virtual collapse of our own building trade and phenomena such as the dizzying fall in Bank of Ireland shares. Presidents are not a law unto themselves and by the time Obama’s proposal comes out the other end of the system it may not be so damaging after all to Irish interests.
On a lighter note, it is reported that Brian Cowen has invited the new Commander-in-Chief to visit Ireland and particularly the village of Moneygall, Co Offaly, in the Taoiseach’s own constituency. Obama’s connection with Moneygall is quite a distant one and goes like this:-
Fulmouth Kearney was born in Moneygall in 1830 and emigrated to the US in 1850 where he became a shoemaker and married Charlotte Holloway; their daughter Mary Ann Kearney married Jacob William Dunham; their son Ralph Emerson Dunham married Ruth Lucille Armour; their son Stanley Armour Dunham married Madelyn Lee Payne; Stanley Ann Dunham married Barack Obama Barack Obama ; their son is Barack Obama jnr, the President-elect.
It hardly provides a sound basis for the current ditty, There’s No One As Irish as Barack O’Bama and I wish my friends would stop sending me the YouTube link for the song.
We always do this kind of thing. Readers who go back a bit will remember that when Richard Nixon came to Ireland back in 1970, his ancestors were traced to a place called Timahoe. But there were two Timahoes – one in Co Laois, the other in Co Kildare – laying claim to the then-US president and he took the Kildare option. Nixon also had an Irish setter called “King Timahoe”.
Another piece of paddywhackery came with the Ronald Reagan visit in 1984. He was traced to Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary. This gave the American media the opportunity to have some fun with a literal English translation of the place-name as “The Town of the Small Potatoes”.
The ancestors of Colin Powell, former US secretary of state were traced to Ireland and I’m pretty sure a link was found for Jimmy Carter as well. Bill Clinton went to a pub in Dublin called Cassidy’s for a drink because his mother’s maiden name was Cassidy.
The one president who did have close and undeniable links with this country was of course John F. Kennedy. I recall meeting one of the Kennedy cousins from Wexford some years ago who was a perfect double of JFK’s brother Bobby in his younger days.
I still remember as a boy the visit here by JFK which was a great four-day national carnival and a tremendous celebration of Irishness and our legitimate pride in having one of our own in the White House. But when the connection is thin and remote, we shouldn’t demean ourselves by playing the Paddy card.
Let’s invite Obama here as the representative of a great nation and a friendly and hospitable neighbour. But let’s not demean ourselves by shaking the family tree to see what we can find. Can we behave like a grown-up country? Yes, we can.
Deaglán de Bréadún