WASHINGTON, DC: “The people of Ireland and the people of the United States have stuck together through good times and bad times,” Trump said. “Over many centuries, we have built a bond that thrives, inspires and endures. And with us, it’s going to be closer than ever before, I can tell you that.”
Brave words and kinder than expected from the 45th President of the United States who rolled out the green carpet a day early for Irish leader Enda Kenny.
There had been fears that Trump would downplay the day, do less than his predecessors, but he soon dismissed that notion.
He spent the entire day of March 16th near the Irish leader Enda Kenny, daughter Ivanka fluttered about the place. It was the A-team. Most of his top-level officials Irish American or not attended the Oval Office meeting with Kenny. Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump at the White House reception, earlier in the day at the Speaker’s lunch, Paul Ryan had sung Ireland’s praises.
Trump put on a show for Kenny and the Irish leader loved it. Trump likes the Irish, perhaps because they always cheered him when he marched in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parades which seems to be a point of reference to him. Trump adores adoring crowds. He doesn’t forget friends.
Included in that was US Ambassador-designate Brian Burns his Palm Beach confidante. As Trump exited the evening reception he grabbed Burns and pulled him along with him into the private quarters, embracing him as he did.
Burns is a superb choice as ambassador, a man steeped in Irish American and Irish History and who knows the Irish issues inside out. He doesn’t fit the growing stereotype among Democrats that Trump can’t pick his nose, never mind good talent.
At the reception, it was evident all had changed, Barack Obama, he of the very distant but mightily celebrated Moneygall roots was gone and a new sheriff was in town, Taoiseach Kenny was on his last lap, set to announce a date for stepping down when he returns to Ireland.
The green fields of Mayo on a rainy Tuesday can hardly match the splendor of the White House. Little wonder there was a talk of Kenny trying to stay on. After six years of glittering spectacle, Kenny is expected to say goodbye to all that. It will hardly be easy.
Trump has at least four years at the helm. He clearly enjoys the Irish; his cabinet is packed with them. Steve Bannon his guru has deep Irish roots his third wife was from Ireland.
In the oval office meeting the Irish Mafia turned out, General Kelly, Kellyanne Conway. Steve Bannon, Wilbur Ross who is heavily invested in Ireland, Mick Mullaney the head of the Office of Management and Budget.
In the midst of it all Trump beamed like that sun at the beginning of the old Teletubbies cartoon. The one who proclaims “Time for Teletubbies”.
By consensus, he seemed more at ease with Kenny than any other leader he had greeted.
He is a president who knew Ireland better than his predecessors in their early days having studied it before deciding to place his golf resort there.
The crowd at the White House reception was down quite deliberately, there was no plus one’s invitation, just single invites,
It was a blessing, frankly, given the crush the last few years. There was more room to move and navigate. Some things stayed the same the apple pie with shamrocks baked in, the shamrock cookies, the pipers playing outside, it was grand and gorgeous especially for the first timers.
For eight years, I knew many of the faces. Not this year, as the new crowd arrived, their turn to be awed by the spectacle of the most important 18 acres on earth.
The way you know if, say you were dropped from Mars, who is holding the White House is by watching as guests make their way up and down the corridors to the reception rooms in the East Wing,
The portraits of former presidents hang on both sides, The Democrats head like guided missiles for the famous JFK portrait of him deep in thought. The camera's flash,
The Republicans set their selfies up at the portrait of Ronald Reagan, their lifetime hero who hangs directly across from Kennedy.
After eight years of adoring one Irish American icon, the Reagan lovers are back. It was a lonely night for JFK.
Later at the Irish Embassy, there was the usual after party bonhomie. CIA director', cabinet officers, supreme court judges, press secretary Sean Spicer all mixed and made merry.
Somewhat bizarrely Enda Kenny received a golden shovel, the one used to plant an Irish oak at the US capitol last year. Perhaps in a Freudian slip moment, Kenny promised to smash the shovel on someone's head (maybe a very annoying pretender to his crown when he left power.)
There was a welcome moment when Kenny thanked incumbent ambassador Anne Anderson, a star of the diplomatic circle in DC and a tireless worker for Irish causes who will retire soon. She will be an impossible act to follow.
Donald Trump is already proving an impossible act, a high wire presidency that either befuddles bedevils, bedazzles or scares the bejesus out of you.
He seemed different among the Irish, more relaxed or am I just being a Hibernophile?
Either way the signal has changed in a profound way.
Like everything Trump Irish night was different and then some. But it was undeniably enjoyable while being about profound change too.