Our Obama moment
By Declan Varley
If truth be told, I did it more for my three-year-old daughter than for myself. As the first evening of winter enveloped us last Sunday evening, I considered just how rare an occasion it would be to welcome home a president-elect to Galway. It might be something that we never again see in our lifetimes. But she might. Never before has any other Galway person of any age experienced it, so such an event might be like Halley’s comet.
In years to come, I opined, my daughter might be glad of the fact that she was there on the evening when Galway welcomed home its first ever holder of one of the top few political offices in the country.
And although perhaps it will not dawn on her for some time (her thoughts might be of why was Dada holding me here in the rain with one hand, while trying to film the event on his iPhone for the Facebook pages, in his other hand), some day, it might give her a sense of history. Modern life is devoid of such moments. Momentous political occasions are normally fleeting. Great political rallies are of times past as people live increasingly sedentary lives, reluctant to come out for such occasions.
It was this sort of curiosity and loyalty and pride that brought out more than 5,000 people on that damp evening. People were unsure how it would be. Would it be indoors and limited to the chosen few? Or would it be a public rally, a la Obama’s election night victory?
Thankfully, it was the latter. An infectious warmth enveloped the Square as Michael D and Sabina arrived.
And after Derek Nolan and Eamon Gilmore introduced him, the place fell silent as we waited for his words. And in that four-second silence, one wag roared up ‘speech, speech’, which broke the tension. And then that unmistakable voice boomed across the Square, filling every corner with its clarity, its vision, its purpose.
“It is my intention to turn language into reality,” he said. “There is a wonderful future for all of us in this country – remember you must be a president for people of every age, for the generations yet to come.”
“I love Ireland and I love its people and I pay tribute to the work of change and transformation that has already been done . . . there is no limit to the possibilities,” he said.
There is a sort of sadness that our new president was a creation of Galway and the west and now, he is to be toured out to be shared by the whole country. If his vision comes through, then the country can begin to rebuild and find the values for which it was formerly famous. And in decades to come, long into the future, when those green shoots of optimism have borne great fruit, let us hope that the many children, of whom my daughter was one, who were in the Square on Sunday, will look back on their history iPads and see the man who scripted that plan, and say “Yes, I was there on that day...”
As if on cue for the finale to his speech, the heavens opened and (to paraphrase that great song by Paraic Stephens), the rain came lashing, splish-splashing, down the street in the Galway fashion. Welcome home, Mr President, welcome home.