Miriam Lord: When a delighted yet tense Leo met Uncle Donald

Talk of golf and Doonbeg may have landed the Taoiseach in a hole

It was like the Taoiseach had just made his First Communion and was visiting Donald, the loud uncle with a few bob. Leo was on his best behaviour. But so too was Donald.

The Taoiseach sat quietly in the Oval Office while Uncle Trump blathered away beside him. At the end of their rather stilted exchange, we half expected the president to pat him on the head and slip him a tenner to buy some sweets.

But their meeting went well. Compared to his sullen performance at the same event last year when Enda Kenny visited, Trump was positively effusive. The Irish? “We love ‘em,” he declared.

Young Leo, who was spotted jogging past the White House in the morning, could hardly get a word in.


“This is the first time in the Oval Office – it’s special,” said his host, on the kindly side of patronising.

“I was telling President Trump I was here as a congressional intern back in 2000 and they didn’t let me into the Oval Office,” piped up the Taoiseach.

“No,” winced Trump, looking sympathetic. “And now we do [let you into the Oval Office]. You’ve made progress.”

Had this been in Ireland, Uncle Trump would then have told Leo that he’s a great boy altogether. And maybe slipped him another tenner.

The Taoiseach, in his good suit, let Trump talk away. Trump had nothing but good things to say about Ireland. “The relationship is outstanding, and only getting better, and it really is a very special group of people.”

As he is thinking seriously now about re-election, there is, naturally, “a tremendous number” of “truly wonderful” Irish people living all over America.

He said he’s going to pay Ireland a visit. The Taoiseach said he would learn how to play golf if he does.

Tense moments

Leo looked both delighted and terrified to be in the Oval Office. There were some tense moments when you worried he might blurt out something silly.

At one point there was a pause in the Trump stream of banalities, and Leo took his chance.

“So, I’m gonna be in New York, gonna be in New York on Saturday,” he simpered.

“Oh, god, wow, that’s good,” murmured the president.

Leo said he was going to be walking in the big parade. “Does it pass Trump Tower?” he asked eagerly, as if he didn’t already know. But this was a buttering up exercise, and Leo was larding it on.

“It does. It goes right by Trump Tower. I used to watch it all the time,” said the president.

As repartee goes it wasn’t exactly sparkling, but the Taoiseach made it through without any mishap. That was to come later, in another part of town.

Trump has a thing about borders, and he talks about them the way other men talk about classic cars

This time the White House was determined not to have a repeat of last year’s unruly scenes involving the Irish media stampeding into and around the Oval Office, knocking over things and falling over sofas.

An aide gave some final instructions before shepherding journalists around by the garden and in through the famous double doors. “Be cognisant of the furniture,” she barked. “Be gentle!”

But there was no repeat of the mild hysteria which took root the last time when people were unceremoniously bundled in and out of Trump’s office while he glowered down at the carpet and Kenny valiantly smiled.

Play some golf

Of course, Trump has some land in Ireland. “Doonbeg, Doonbeg – you know that!” And he wouldn’t mind going down there to play some golf.

Or, for that matter, heading in the opposite direction to inspect the Border between the Republic and the North.

Trump has a thing about borders, and he talks about them the way other men talk about steam engines or classic cars.

“We have two interesting borders, one happens to be where you are, right? That’s an interesting border.”

Leo kept schtum. Probably not the best time to remind him that his Government is working overtime to try and stop a “hard border” being put in place as a result of Brexit and not, as in the case of Trump and Mexico, trying to put one up.

Leo, meanwhile, looking slightly overawed by his surrounding, puffed up a little when the president declared it was his great honour “to have the very popular prime minister of Ireland with us”.

According to the opinion polls, Varadkar may indeed by very popular back home, but as he shamelessly cozied up to Trump you could almost hear the kettles whistling from across the Atlantic as a lot of blood began to boil.

The president, who spends an inordinate amount of time on the golf course, presumed that the Taoiseach plays. Does he?

“No,” stuttered Leo, “but I’m always willing to learn. You can take me for a few rounds.”

And back across the Atlantic, Richard Boyd Barrett and many other politicians cranked up their press release machines and got cracking.


The handshake was a bit strange. Leo trying to go for the upper hand by placing his on top, only for Trump to grasp it from underneath in the way a person does when supporting somebody negotiating a tricky flight of steps.

At one point Leo tried to say what he hoped they might talk about in their bilateral discussion, but he trailed off because Trump, who wasn’t listening, started talking again.

When the public meeting ended the President wished everyone well, and made a few more remarks about golf. Then he said, to nobody in particular, “say hello to the people for me”.

Afterwards the Taoiseach said their meeting went very well, but he didn’t have too much to say about it.

Again Varadkar had very little to say and nothing even mildly approaching on the controversial

After the White House his motorcade headed for Capitol and the Friends of Ireland annual lunch, hosted by House speaker Paul Ryan, who spoke again about his Kilkenny roots and “downtown” Graiguenamanagh.

“I never heard anybody referring to downtown Graiguenamanagh,” said Leo at the start of his short speech before the lunch.

Again he had very little to say and nothing even mildly approaching on the controversial, mentioning for the umpteenth time his stint as a congressional intern 20 years ago. This has gone down very well in Washington, and there were approving nods from his audience when he told the assembled politicians, many of whom were nursing flat pints of stout.

There was applause when he said he brought home the American flag as a memento from his time in DC – when he “learned the art of politics” – and he keeps it in his office. “I actually used to give tours of this building, believe it or not!”

Another life

In his remarks earlier, Trump (in between saying the plan for a mission to Mars was “way ahead of schedule”) made an intriguing comment about the Taoiseach. “We actually know each other from another life.” He didn’t elaborate.

But Leo did. In detail he may regret.

Back when Varadkar was minister for tourism, Trump phoned him personally about a proposal to site a wind farm near his Doonbeg golf course. Leo promised he would do what he could, revealing he actually got in touch with Clare County Council about this planning issue “which we were able to resolve”. The wind farm was never built.

Then he tried to retrieve the situation by saying the president “has kindly given me credit for that, although I think it would probably have been refused anyway”.

He thinks?

Speaking of wind farms, Opposition TDs started lining up to demand an investigation into the “Varadkar Intervention”. Brendan Howlin was first out with an angry statement demanding answers.

If only Leo could dismiss his story as fake news.

And it had all been going so well.....