Something new to be good at...

In the same way that pre-Michelle Smith, the Irish Olympic swimming team used to hail a competition a success if none of them was drowned, let’s be honest, weren’t we glad when both the Queen and Obama got out of Ireland alive? Not that there was ever a serious threat to their respective healths while they were here, but there was always the fear that a member of the South Offaly-North Tipperary branch of Al Qaeda might attack him with a hurl or that that dissy-dent republicans might savage the Queen with a Turbot snatched from the shelves of the English Market. We all breathed a sigh of relief when their planes left the ground and rose into that part of sky that Cork radio presenters know as non-indictable international airspace out of our jurisdiction.

Every so often we develop a newfound talent at being brilliant at something or other that is absolutely no use to us in the long run. We developed a skill for winning Eurovisions, for having likeable Big Brother contestants, for breeding boybands, and we developed a uniquely Irish admiration for the likes of Charlie Landsborough, David Gray and Garth Brooks — and now we have discovered that we’re great at protecting international heads of state when they come to our country. It was a skill we never knew we had, to be honest, but years of batin’ crusties and inhaling hummus down in Rossport has given our gardai a new edge and so they excelled themselves. It’s a skill that we’ll probably never get to use again, because we’re running out of contentious heads of state to invite here. I mean who else could we invite to Ireland who would need such protection? The Pope comes next year, but his detractors are more theological than physical. David Drumm might, if he were to come back here.Thierry Henry perhaps. Enda could repeat TH’s vavavoom ads as a homage.

However, getting back to reality, wasn’t there a wonderful innocence to the scenes in Moneygall? It reminded me of the day in 1970 when three USAF helicopters landed in the field behind our house in Ballinrobe and as a five-year-old when I and other kids were given a spin on one, while Richard Nixon’s wife, Pat, went to visit relatives in the old homestead outside the town.

I can still smell the chipboard of the stage that day as we all held up the tricolours and star-spangled banners and waved furiously at a smily, friendly woman we had never seen before and would never see, in the flesh, again. But the memory of it lives on forever, as it will with those kids on the streets of Moneygall.

Both of this month’s visits were a throwback to the past, and perhaps it is to that past we will have to travel to rediscover what it is about Ireland that made people love us before we became arrogant flutes taking on the Arabs in buying wars. It’s hard to bate the auld hospitality when it comes to starting from scratch, especially when it can be done without the need for tugging the forelock.

Declan Varley [email protected]

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