Sam Barbee & I were in Cardiff getting ready for a Learning Pool customer event the night President Barack Obama was elected. Sam Barbee is American and I’ve always wished I was – although being Irish is almost the same thing. It’s certainly closer to being American than any other nationality. Our Irish diaspora numbers 45m in the USA. As a child I listened to the stories my great aunts and uncles in Donegal told us about Amerikay – they’d all been to the US many times although they’d never been to Belfast or Dublin & certainly not to the GB mainland. At the Northern Ireland Bureau St Patrick’s Day breakfast, Martin McGuinness recited a 2 line poem to illustrate our unique relationship with our cousins across the water – I can’t remember it exactly but it was something like this:
Have you been on your holidays yet this year?
No we’ve just been to America again
The morning of our Cardiff breakfast event, we were a bit tired having been up all night following the election results coming in and watching the President’s wonderful acceptance speech. Neither of us would have missed it for anything.
It was therefore with great excitement that I received the invite to the President’s St Patrick’s Night party at the White House along with a few others from the Northern Ireland business community (that’s us in the second photo). The build up to the big day nearly killed me & it was a relief that I only had a week’s notice. I had to rush out to the shops to buy something green to wear and thank goodness I did or I would have stuck out like a sore thumb (I’ve never seen as much green clothing in my life as I saw in Washington DC on 17 March). I had an amusing incident at immigration when I was asked the purpose of my visit – the immigration officer asked to see my invite and after studying it for a long time appeared to be most impressed. From talking to people around Washington DC it seems that the President isn’t much in evidence locally apart from on the tv – although the First Lady has a significant local presence through the many good works she’s involved in. So what stays with me from the night itself? – the following highlights:
· Hearing the President and the Vice President speak & being at the front with such a clear view
· Watching the way the Vice President & the First Lady never took their eyes off the President when he was addressing the crowd
· Being in the White House for 3 hours and being able to wander round the rooms and freely take photos of the decor, the view from the windows, the paintings and everything else (my full photo set from the evening is at this link http://bit.ly/h8VK1q)
· The craic in the crowd whilst we were waiting for the President to appear – especially all of us being able to try on the Rose of Tralee’s tiara (thanks Clare!)
· The mounting excitement waiting for the President – we were almost hyperventilating by the time 7pm came along
· The pomp & circumstance of the whole evening – the pipe band, the choir, the banquet, the greenness, the beautifully dressed & polite members of the military dotted about everywhere who offered to take photos & were extremely cordial
· The lovely people that we met who were also there as guests
· Rather perversely I enjoyed seeing one woman spill her wine on the furniture
· Glen Hansard of the Frames being joined by Tim Shriver for a rendition of The Auld Triangle
· Being spontaneously hugged by Michelle Obama when I held my hand out to shake hers – I still can’t believe that – she didn’t hug anyone else and I’m glad she picked me
· Meeting the President for a few seconds & telling him how glad I am that it’s him that’s there – Jannine’s photo is a bit of a joke but I promise you that’s the President’s nose!!! You can tell by my face anyway
· Realising that the President & the First Lady were as good in real life as I imagined they would be
· Feeling the warmth from our diaspora first hand – doesn’t matter if you’re 4th or 5th generation guys – you’re still ours!
Thanks again to everyone that made this possible – people I knew already (Martin & Stephen & Alastair) & people I hadn’t even met that were so nice and so good to me (Kamala & Grainne). The Learning Pool team has me down as a people collector but even with Robert Plant in the portfolio, Barack Obama’s a bit of a prize so I may give it up whilst I’m ahead.