World leaders are like twins. First you don’t have any, then two come along together.
Last week the Queen was here, a roaring success of a visit thanks to the well-chosen schedule, the joy of the Irish at meeting her, and her own good-naturedness and astonishing tirelessness.
This week we got Barrack Obama. Well, by this week I mean today, he arrived this morning and is leaving tomorrow (or perhaps now tonight, because of fears the volcanic ash might close the airports). It originally seemed like one of those visits you make to an elderly aunt when ordered to by your mother, you spend as little time as possible there.
But that’s not how it turned out. Just like last week’s guest, he was brilliant.
He was to spend just half an hour in Moneygall, from where his distant relatives hail, but spent nearly an hour in the streets, meeting, smiling and chatting. He was offered Guinness (the only way we know how to welcome people) and he drank it. So did Michelle, and we were hooked.
And the people flocked to his Dublin public address, thrilled by the chance of seeing this man who is already a piece of history, the US’s first black president, a lesson to us supposedly superior Europeans that the supposedly hick Americans are more fair-minded and liberal than we snootily think.
His speech was terrific, and then again he roamed about him, shaking hands, waving and looking like he was having a really good time (the clip where he took a mobile phone from someone in the crowd and chatted briefly to the person at the other end will be shown for years).
I’m glad it all went well, as well as last week. We needed the good news of these visits, as we have had so much bad news here over the last couple of years. We needed the kind and stirring words from each of them, the reminder of how much influence this tiny island has had on the whole world in so many fields, the encouragement that we can make things right again for ourselves.
We need some of our confidence restored, since it has been so badly shaken. And these two terrific people helped do that.