Ireland’s message to the universe: it’s all about us

Tourism Ireland looked at a man who had walked among the stars, and seen the great sea of humanity from the window of the International Space Station, and thought, We’ve got to get a hurley in Chris Hadfield’s hands

As you'll know, the astronaut Chris Hadfield has been back in Ireland. On his first Late Late Show appearance, before Christmas, he was everything that could have been hoped for: articulate and charming, with an easy capacity for marrying majesty and humanity, and a gift for explaining the epic without reducing it to the mundane.

The morning after that first appearance, his book signing at Eason on O’Connell Street in Dublin was so popular that the queue went around the corner on a day when the street was being slapped by gales and rain. The shop ran out of copies, so someone went and hoovered up rival shops’ stocks.

When he returned, just a week ago, the Late Late brought him back again, only a few weeks after his previous appearance, which must have been some sort of record even for a show whose guest roster has the appearance of an untended baggage carousel.

Cmdr Hadfield's pictures of Ireland from space, and his use of Irish in his tweets, had endeared him to the nation, but on that pre-Christmas visit the Canadian had become something of an Irish national hero. And through the gales you could just about make out the sound of backs being slapped somewhere in the offices of Tourism Ireland.


There, some bright spark had looked at this astronaut – who had walked among the infinity of space, who had watched Earth go by every 92 minutes, who had returned with a greater-than-ever appreciation of the only planet we have, the seven billion people on it and our place in the universe – and knew one thing should happen: they were going to shove a hurley in that man’s hand.

Last week they did that, and the images went around the world quicker than the International Space Station. In Canada they're wondering just how on Earth (or how not on Earth in this case) Ireland managed to get their most famous astronaut as its tourism ambassador.

"You have to wonder how the Canadian Tourism Commission didn't think of this first," wrote a Globe and Mail journalist after the news broke. "In the six hours since announcing the news, his five-day visit has arguably been the most positive news to come out of Ireland since, well . . . "

And that’s how they left it hanging. But there you go: they should have grabbed him and they didn’t. Ireland did, and managed to take his grand adventure and make it about us. It was the universal made local.

The message from Ireland was this: Chris Hadfield looked out of the window of the International Space Station and saw the world in its entirety, every living thing in a glance, every new life, every soul departing, the preciousness of this world floating through a lifeless void, and awesome weekend breaks in Donegal.

This isn’t a complaint, by the way. When I wrote about his adventures last year it was in the context of his obvious affinity for Ireland, although nobody could then have expected it to develop into something of a torrid holiday romance.

What happened since has involved an impressive bit of manoeuvring by Tourism Ireland, and great generosity from Cmdr Hadfield, and has earned global coverage (mostly in his home country, which is nicely timed given the new air routes between our countries).

And other countries wanted a slice of the action too. Hadfield told the BBC that most of all he’d like to visit New Zealand’s wine country. A tourism exec was quoted as saying: “Oh, light-bulb opportunity.” Too late. You’ve already got Bilbo Baggins. Don’t be greedy.

It’s a reminder, though, that he saw the beauty of every country, the preciousness of the planet on which we all cling, and how that view changed his perspective both as an individual and as a part of the great flow of humanity.

“I think what everyone would find if they could be in that position – if they could see the whole world every 90 minutes and look down on the places where we do things right, and look down where we’re doing stupid, brutal things to each other and the inevitable patience of the world that houses us – I think everybody would be reinforced in their faith, and maybe readdress the real true tenets of what’s good and what gives them strength.”

And once we've done that, then we can get tips on where to find great pub grub in Belfast.