Ireland could use a little audacity of hope

May 24, 2011

By Marian Harkin

The opinions expressed are her own.

Barack Obama’s infectious hope will help replenish the spirits of the beleaguered Irish people as we strive to emerge from recession, but more significantly his invoking our small nation’s educational and entrepreneurial talents help to show us the way forward.

A once-in-a-generation economic crisis might seem like an odd time for Ireland to issue back-to-back invitations to Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Obama, but as the sun shone through the rain cloud, illuminating the President as he visited his ancestral home in Moneygall Co. Offaly, it seemed a masterstroke, for it is precisely an injection of Obama-esque audacious hope and “yes we can” positivity that Ireland needs to kickstart our long road to recovery.

One week ago as her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bowed her head before a Memorial to Ireland’s Republican dead, the message rang out to the high heavens – we work as equals and we can live in peace, and that peace can be the foundation upon which growth and prosperity is restored to this small island north and south.

So the feel-good factor was already firmly in place by the time Air Force One touched down in Dublin Airport.  Obama harnessed that upbeat mood by linking together the potential of youth, education and peace along with the power of dreams. As he himself is the embodiment of that dream, he makes it easy to believe, he makes it easy to hope and it is somehow easier to reaffirm his call “Is féidir linn” – Irish for “yes we can.”

Obama did not propose solutions to our economic problems on this visit, but for a little while he lifted our morale.  For the past two years Irish citizens have watched as enormous swathes of bank debt accumulated by the casino-like operation of Irish and European banks have been transformed before their disbelieving eyes into sovereign or citizen debt.  The sheer scale of the burden and the sense that the only light at the end of the tunnel is that of an approaching train has traumatized an entire country.  Our self belief is being sorely tested as we try to make sense of the madness that rewards the speculators and punishes the citizens.  The loss of our economic sovereignty is a huge body blow.  Yet somehow the events of the last week each in very different ways have helped to restore some national dignity.  As friends and equals with our nearest neighbors and bound by history, friendships and shared values with the US we can dig deep and find the resilience and the resolve we need to ensure that, as Obama said, “Ireland’s best days are ahead.”

But this trip was also personal and Moneygall was all about family and the body hugging warmth of a real welcome home.  As distant relatives posed for family photographs, tiny babies were cradled and gnarled hands were grasped, the President and First Lady Michelle slotted into place another piece of the jigsaw that is his ancestry.

As Air Force One cleared Irish airspace just ahead of the ash cloud, the thoughts of the President must have drifted to his great great great grandfather Falmouth Kearney. 150 years ago, he boarded a ship to New York during the great hunger and in his wildest dreams, he could hardly have imagined his descendent would return to help lift the spirit of the nation he now was leaving. But then, maybe, just maybe, Falmouth Kearney too had the audacity to hope.

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