Irish leader Enda Kenny's powerful eloquence in first White House visit --Obama remembers Frederick Douglass in Ireland
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 11:01 PM
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The White House: President Obama looks older than a year ago when I saw him in the flesh last. There are more creases on his skin, more tiredness lurking around his eyes.
No occupant of the White House leaves office unscathed, the heavy burdens of the job drag down even the most vital of men.
This night Obama looks tired but is in fine spirits. Like most American politicians, especially those from Chicago he is comfortable in an Irish crowd and it shows.
His annual White House party has become the highlight of the Irish social year with tickets scarcer than a hen's teeth. On this night we had all crowded into the East Room to hear Obama, Vice President Biden and new Irish leader Enda Kenny proclaim a new era in Irish American relations.
Outside the White House fountain spurted deep green water and Obama joked that the White House workmen had done a proper job this year, unlike last when the watery green color had hardly done the job.
Obama began with a telling history lesson.
He described the voyage of the great African American leader Frederick Douglass to Ireland where he went to escape the slave catchers in 1845.
Douglass became heavily influenced by Daniel O'Connell, the 'Liberator' who led Irish Catholics to emancipation and detested slavery. O'Connell's embrace of non violence deeply impacted Douglass as Obama pointed out.
He talked about the upcoming visit to Ireland and what it would mean to him. Arguably He will be the first truly significant black figure since Douglass to visit Ireland.
The linkage between black and Irish was also on the mind of Enda Kenny.
In a soaring speech, among the finest I have heard by any Irish politician, he compared the slave trade in West Africa that brought millions in chains to America to the flight from death and starvation of the Irish who came on the coffin ships.
"Together we built America" he said.
He spoke about the importance of the upcoming visit by Obama coming at a time of great trial and challenge for Ireland.
He made it clear that Obama would get a hero's welcome in his ancestor's village in Offaly and that the plain people of Ireland would give him a wonderful reception.
Looking at Kenny so in command and coming across so powerfully I could not but think that cometh the hour cometh the man.
He certainly possesses that great ingredient for success which is sheer luck.
His predecessor Brian Cowen, a thoroughly decent man, was hit with a ton of bricks soon after taking office when the economic crisis hit. He never recovered
Kenny on contrast will host the American president the Queen of England and if reports are true the pope next year.
But Kenny gives the clear impression that high office will not daunt him, that he will remain rooted in the soil of his native County Mayo and not develop the arrogance so prevalent in the previous government.
He has certainly got off to a lightning start in America.
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