“The View from Killarney”



Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2016.

When the time came to write this week’s column – due to being published on the blessed day itself – I decided to ask an old friend in Killarney if he might provide me with his own insights into this year’s American presidential primary season.

Finbarr Slattery is a legend in County Kerry. We became acquainted when Eileen and I were visiting Killarney on our first trip to Ireland in 1992. For many years, Mr. Slattery wrote a brilliant weekly column in The Kingdom newspaper and has been published around the world, including Time Magazine. We kept in touch for quite some time.

Alas, I have just learned that Finbarr, housebound and well into his 90s, has become extremely frail, but his former editor at The Kingdom, which sadly ceased publication in January of 2011, now comes to our rescue.

John O’Mahony is editor and publisher of KillarneyToday.com, a daily online news, sports and current affairs service in Killarney, Co Kerry – Ireland’s best known tourism town. Thousands of miles away from the relentless political pounding we receive around the clock, here’s a March 17th perspective provided at a discerning distance from the land of saints and shamrocks, courtesy of the graciously accommodating Mr. O’Mahony.

“Ireland’s slow to play the Trump card”

THERE’S a rousing ballad penned specifically for the 1971 film adaptation of Walter Macken’s wonderful children’s book, Flight of the Doves, in which the chorus cheerfully proclaims, you don’t have to be Irish to be Irish.

And that certainly rings true if one’s association with the Emerald Isle can be mutually beneficial in terms of commercial considerations or promotional opportunities; a sort of you scratch our back and we’ll return the compliment arrangement.

It also highlights the traditional Irish hospitality, famous the world over and, almost without exception, genuine, warm and wonderful.

The President of the United States of America, whoever holds that office at any given time, has always been well within the promotional radar of those charged with the responsibility of boosting Irish tourism and finding reason – any reason – to throw a party. If there was a VIP guest list, 1600 Penn would be at the very summit.

It started with JFK in June 1963 when he sipped tea from the best bone China cup that could be found in the village at his ancestral home in Dunganstown, County Wexford. That’s a visit that remains one of the most important, groundbreaking, celebrated and poignant occasions in Irish history, right up there alongside the arrival of Pope John Paul II in 1979 in terms of landmark moments in time.

But it didn’t end there. If the sunny south east could claim Jack Kennedy, then the land of the little potato in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary could do likewise with President Reagan after he came calling to the land of his roots in 1984.

The sleepy County Offaly village of Moneygall has built a busy plaza and museum dedicated to President Obama following his all too brief visit, in May 2011, to the little rural hamlet where his great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side once walked the land and where his eighth cousin, Henry Healy, affectionately known locally as Henry VIII, occasionally waits on tables at the in-house diner.

President Bush, senior and junior, both came calling as did President Nixon when he visited his own ancestors’ graves in County Kildare in October 1970. But, of course, the charismatic President Clinton, the only American President that came anywhere close to JFK in terms of respect and admiration in the eyes of the Irish people, spent so much time in Ireland, between 1995 and 2000, that he ran the risk of developing freckles and a fondness for creamy porter.

So admired was President Clinton that the locals even erected a larger-than-life statue of the great man in the heart of the seaside town of Ballybunion, County Kerry where he played golf with former Irish Labour Party leader and foreign affairs minister Dick Spring.

Despite the great history between American presidents and the Irish people, strangely, or perhaps not strangely at all, it would appear that there is no great clamor to fast-track an invitation to the man who now wants to be president to visit the land of saints and scholars.

Besides, Donald Trump doesn’t need to avail of Irish hospitality as he already has a pretty impressive place to lay his head following his purchase of the stunning Doonbeg Resort and Country Club out of bankruptcy in February 2014. It is set on 400 acres in County Clare, has a 25-mile coastline and world class golf club. How could Ballyporeen or Ballybunion compete with that?

Truth be told, even despite his barnstorming, electrifying successes in the Primary season, few people in Ireland are still taking the Trump campaign very seriously. They should do so, but they refuse to.

That he is likely to secure the Republican nomination is greeted with sheer disbelief and, quite honestly, loud bar stool guffaws. Ireland simply refuses to play the Trump card.

The Donald’s take on immigration has greatly irritated the Irish people who watched, helplessly and tearfully, for generations as their young, and not so young, were forced to flee the land to salvage some dignity and to try to earn enough dollars to stuff in an envelope to put bread on the table and medicine in the cupboards back home.

His stance on foreign policy is, well, frankly, pretty scary. Building walls when the rest of the word is knocking them down defies logic. His bullish nature and brash swagger is not going down well in a country where people like those in power and with power to remain modest and unassuming from whatever lofty perch they stand on.

Sanders, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are largely unknown in Ireland to anyone other than total political anoraks and when it comes to their chances of kicking off their slippers under the White House bed, the view here is that there is more of a possibility of spotting a snake slithering down O’Connell Street on St Patrick’s Day.

Ireland loves a Clinton. For all his faults Bill remains a national hero for his commitment to the long and complex campaign to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He treated the Irish people with respect, with dignity, with compassion and with a glint in his eye that went down a treat. That was appreciated. And it won’t be forgotten,

Forging another link between Ireland and the US of A, Chelsea Clinton penned a highly regarded and valued 150-page thesis on the Northern Ireland and she even spent a vacation in Killarney, County Kerry, departing just before she qualified to have a statue of her own cast in bronze.

As for, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, well, she’s the campaigner Ireland is rooting for. She doesn’t possess her husband’s charisma. She’s prone to more than an occasional foul up bleep and blunder and she often comes across as having a tendency to be single-minded, calculating and divisive.

But, hey, she’s a Clinton. And if Hillary is good enough for America then she is most welcome into the Irish parlour, where there will be a welcome on the mat, a kettle on the boil and the best bone china in the village awaiting.

Just as long as she brings himself with her.

John O’Mahony

Killarney, Ireland


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