Saturday, October 30, 2010


The 26th of June 1963 was my mothers 28th birthday. On that evening she stood in the front garden of our house on the Swords Road in Santry with her 18 month old daughter in her arms and together they watched as one of the most glamorous and charismatic leaders the world had ever seen, swept past in his motorcade on the way to Aras an Uachtarain.

I don’t know if the fact that I saw President Kennedy from my mother’s arms explains my fascination with his story. I think most people, particularly us Irish, find the story of JFK compelling. It has it all – power, glamour, wealth, success, Hollywood legends, conspiracy and the ultimate tragedy of a life cut short. To this day and no doubt into the future, JFK is the President many leaders, particularly American Presidents aspire to. Clinton and Obama made no secret of their admiration for the 35th President of the United States and the Kennedy family’s endorsement of their campaigns, was a key element in both their elections to office.

What was it that made John Fitzgerald Kennedy so special? Watch old film of this attractive man, who was 43 when elected, and his charisma is still evident today. Charisma, no matter what your role in life is, is a very useful commodity. JFK had it in buckets. He was by all accounts very charming and had the ability to make people like him. His self deprecating sense of humour also won people over. He was a leader whose two most powerful tools were charm and charisma. Coupled, no doubt, with a sharp intellect and innate understanding that politics is all about people, combined to make him a very effective statesman.

He understood that to connect with people, be they your countrymen or not, was essential. He arrived in Dublin on that June evening in 1963, straight from Berlin where he had made his famous ‘Ich bein ein Berliner’speech. JFK knew how to connect with people alright.

But connecting alone is not enough. Kennedy also knew how to communicate very effectively his vision of the world. He used big broad brush strokes when painting that vision. Many years later, African American poet Maya Angelou said “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And when he came to visit us in Ireland, Kennedy made us feel good, good about ourselves and good about this country we live in. What a precious gift.

When he addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas on the 28th of June, he delivered one of his trademark, powerful orations. It was full of references to Ireland’s proud literary tradition, stressing our relatively new independence, and the role he saw for Ireland in working towards World Peace. Probably the best known passage from the speech that day was when he quoted George Bernard Shaw’s approach to life :”other peoples see things and say ‘Why?.... but I dream things that never were – and I say: Why not?”

Kennedy went on to say
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

These words, delivered directly here to us in Ireland, inspired our country almost 50 years ago. We listened and we believed. Why? Because they were delivered by a charismatic leader, who had a vision to communicate to us and who ultimately made us feel good about ourselves. To me, this is the very essence of leadership.

We should be grateful to Ryan Tubridy for putting the spotlight back on those momentous days of 1963. Because buried among the newsreel footage, the anecdotes and the sheer excitement, is Kennedy’s speech to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a speech that is as relevant today as it was on the day it was delivered. Almost half a century later, his words are still a wonderful gift to us. As we flounder from one financial crisis to the next, in a vacuum devoid of leadership and of vision, let us remember that the 35th President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy told us we possessed a remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination. And let us hope that he was right!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Halloween Musings on Sunday Miscellany

Just a little note to let y'all know that I will be one of the featured writers on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday, 31st October when I shall be, appropriately enough, musing about Halloween. Regular readers will know that this is my absolute favourite time of year!

So, have a lie in and set the radio to come on at 9am for an hour of stories, memories and music. RTE Radio 1. 9am. Sunday 31st October.

Oh, and if you are around a radio on Monday morning, I shall be popping into the East Coast Radio Studio at about 11.15 for another battering, sorry chat with Declan Meehan. Check out

Happy Halloween

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gimme some of that ole Chilean magic

No doubt in order to balance Black Thursday, God in her infinite wisdom, decided last week to gift us with Chilean Wednesday. As I watched the events taking place, thousands of miles away in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, with the rest of the world, I too cried. For the first time in months I felt uplifted and hopeful. I also swooned slightly due to the constant presence of the handsome Laurence Golborne, Chile’s Mining Minister whose huge smile shone forth from under his hard hat and dominated much of the coverage. He’s apparently now a superstar in his homeland and has been tipped as the possible next President. He’d make a great guest on The Late Late Show, which is having a dearth of good guests at the moment. But I digress.

I know nothing about Chile, except their red wine of which I am very fond. On Chilean Wednesday I discovered that their Spanish is a lot easier to understand than that spoken in Spain. Perhaps they talk slower. There were other things that struck me about Chile too.

Chileans exude an innate warmth and informality. There was little hand shaking at Camp Hope. No, it was all hugs and kisses and back slapping. Both President Pinera and Mr Golborne (did you notice his lovely teeth?) greeted each miner with a huge bear hug. They also hugged and kissed the miners families and loved ones. Although in the same situation I am not sure how keen I would be on Brian Cowan lunging forward to deliver a hug or even, God forbid, a kiss!

Chileans have sex appeal in a way that I doubt we in Ireland will ever have. Considering that they had just endured 69 days trapped in the heat below the desert, these men appeared as Rock Stars as each one emerged from what looked like a miniature reverse rocket, in their Bonoesque shades. Could you imagine how a group of Irish Miners trapped under a bog might look – even with trendy sunglasses? From the oldest to the youngest, these guys all exuded a confidence that only comes from knowing you look darn good!

Their ‘rock star’ make-over included a team t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Gracias Senor’ or Thank God. Only Chilean Miners led by the gorgeous Mr Golborne could rehabilitate God in such an immediate and effective way, given what the various religions have done to him over the years.

I am left in awe of this South American country. We should be very jealous of them.

We need some of this magic. We need some of the media savvy that ensured the whole world shared in this magical rescue. They took a huge risk in inviting us all to be such an intimate part of the proceedings. Had it gone horribly wrong, President Pinera and Mr Golborne would have been left offering explanations and apologies. But it didn’t go wrong. It worked and beautifully. Why? Perhaps because they believed it would. Perhaps because they had ‘Senor’ onside. Perhaps because they have the sexiest Minister I have seen in a long time in charge. All of which does not bode well for Ireland’s recovery from our financial hellhole.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A PINT AND A HAIRCUT True Irish Stories

All of us remember the dreadful earthquake that devastated the island of Haiti early this year. I wrote about it here. Haiti has now disappeared from news reports and from the forefront of our minds, which I suppose are not very taken up with our own economic earthquake here in Ireland. However, true to form not all Irish people have not forgotten about Haiti. There are those that are working directly on the ground with Irish aid agencies helping the people rebuild their lives and there are creative and generous people like Garret Pearse.

A native of County Longford but now living in Wicklow, Software Consultant Garret, decided to do something practical to help Haiti. Some months ago he put out a call for ‘True Irish Stories’. His intention was to compile a book which would raise funds for Concern’s work in Haiti. The response came, from established writers, bloggers and brand new writers – proving that old adage that all Irish people have a story to tell, to be true.

After more months whittling down the stories he received and making difficult choices, the book is ready and should be hitting the bookstores about now. Taking its name from one of the stories, A Pint and a Haircut features 70 tales – including one by yours truly! I am proud to be associated with this great project along with other bloggers Eolai gan Feile (whose also donated the painting on the cover), Jane Travers and Maria Duffy.

A Pint and a Haircut retails at €12.99. If its not in your bookstore ask them to order it for you (ISBN 978-1-907536-16-1) or buy it online from the publishers Londubh Books. It will keep you entertained on long winter nights and make a great present. But most of all, it will help those whose lives are still devastated in Haiti.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Am A Citizen Of This Country And I Am Angry

I am delighted that the Irish Times today published a piece I wrote last Thursday - Black Thursday in Ireland - when the Government finally came clean on more or less how much this bail out of the banks is going to cost us!

I have been overwhelmed with the response I have had - on the Irish Times website and through Twitter.

You can read it here