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Obama In Ireland: Words to Consider, Reconsider

25/05/2011

Controversy has a way of revolving  around words in Ireland in a strange way. Even when Barak Obama,  President of the United States, visits we get caught up in a national debate about Enda Kenny’s welcoming speech in College Green, Dublin, and his use of Barak Obama’s very own words.

But, An Taoiseach’s gift of words to the Obamas was inspired: a copy of Padraic Colum’s Legends of Hawaii for their daughters, Malia and Sasha. In 1922, as a new independent Irish State was taking shape, the Hawaiian legislature commissioned Padraic Colum to collect myths and legends from their State and write them as children’s stories. Dr Padraic Whyte of Trinity College, remarking  during the week about the appropriateness of the gift for the Obamas, said that ‘myths not only explain where we come from, but they can also guide us to where we want to go to.’

I have my own connection with words and Barak Obama and Enda Kenny’s native County Mayo. For, on the day of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, I made a trip to the Erris Peninsula – in the footsteps of John Millington Synge – while I listened on radio to Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

It was the inauguration verse of the Harlem-born poet, Elizabeth Alexander, that caught my imagination on the car radio in Erris that day: ‘We encounter each other in words, words / spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, / words to consider, reconsider.’

Obama – and The Queen – have gone. We are left with the images, and the words,  and the controversy.

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