Like white-headed pint, Clinton worth the wait


If Bill Clinton is short of work in his retirement years, he might consider a role as a walking Guinness advertisement.

He's smooth, goes down well with the Irish, and has a white head; all the whiter, he said himself, since he became involved with Northern Ireland. He's a lot warmer than a pint of Guinness, admittedly. But the other thing he has in common with the black stuff is that, like a proper pint, he can be slow arriving.

The world-famous brewery was a natural choice of venue on a day when Dublin raised a parting glass to the Clinton years, and plenty were raised and sunk during the wait for the President. We wondered if the White House spin doctors had raised last-minute objections when they realised the name of the venue.

First Watergate, Irangate, Monicagate, and now a US president was walking straight into. . .St James's Gate! But 1-1/2 hours behind schedule, the American wake for the Clinton presidency was under way.

Bertie Ahern began and ended his warm-up speech with a flourish, first welcoming the President to the "heart of the Liberties in the greatest city in the world" and urging Hillary Clinton to "give them hell" in her new role as senator.

In between, the Taoiseach thanked the President for his unfailing support throughout the years of the peace process, recalling that the "talks about talks and meetings about meetings" had been so numerous that future historians would be "dizzy" following them. Having drunk pints for two hours, the audience knew how the historians would feel.

But when the Taoiseach told the President Ireland would never forget his efforts, the words were loudly applauded.

Then it was President Clinton's turn, for a short and bittersweet address in which he sought to explain how he became involved with Ireland. He considered a supernatural explanation: that he was haunted by the spirit of James Hoban, the Irishman who designed the White House.

He mentioned the obvious one: "Maybe it's because there are 45 million Americans and I was trying to get votes." And then, having drawn laughter from the cynics, he lowered his eyes and said: "The truth is, it seemed the right thing to do."

At one point, he even seemed to brush away a tear. It was probably just an itchy eyelid, but his farewell to Dublin was an occasion worthy of nostalgia. By the end of the afternoon, there wasn't a dry glass in the house.