Obama gets a poetic aloha


Six weeks ago Dr Pádraic Whyte, a lecturer in children’s literature at Trinity College Dublin, was looking through the archive of the poet Padraic Colum when he came across his work on Hawaiian myths and legends. He thought it would be a wonderful idea to present Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, with a first edition of these children’s stories.

He contacted Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, who thought it a marvellous idea, and she passed it on to Enda Kenny, who gave him the go-ahead. Whyte secured the first edition online, and the Trinity conservation department provided a custom-made slipcase for the book.

Enda invited the academic to meet him at Government Buildings on the Friday before the visit, and he also gave him a VIP invitation to the concert on College Green.

“The Taoiseach introduced me to Barack and Michelle Obama and told them I had the idea to give them the book. They told me that Malia and Sasha would treasure it.”

In 1922 the Hawaiian legislature commissioned Colum to collect myths and legends from Hawaii and write them as children’s stories. They would be used in schools to provide children with a background to the islands’ folk traditions. The result was three volumes of Tales and Legends of Hawaii: At the Gateways of the Day(1924), The Bright Islands(1925) and Legends of Hawaii.

Enda presented the book to Obama at Farmleigh. Thanking him, the president said: “It just confirms that if you need somebody to do some good writing, hire an Irishman.”