Posted on 18th March 2023

St. Patrick’s Day has always held a special place in my psyche.  First the obvious – he lit the Pascal Fire on the Hill of Slane, subsequently converting the High King to Christianity.  This means Slane is a very special place imbued with Pagan and Christian history.

Distant view of Slane Castle

I would think about all of this when as a lonesome student I sat drinking green beer near Harvard Square on St. Patrick’s Day.  With my Anglo accent I, of course, had to declare my Irishness that much more emphatically.  All of this was helped by the fact that as a student I was known as Henry Slane.  Some of my American friends still call me Hank.  I look back on those days with great affection. arvard Quare on St. Patrick#s Day.  With my anglo accent, I, of course, had to declare my Irishness that much more emphatically

In those days I grew to understand the huge influence America exercised over Irish affairs.  Massachusetts was then dominated by Tip O’Neill, who became Speaker of the House in 1977, and, of course, Senator Ted Kennedy.  Now in the form of Joe Biden, we have a President deeply sympathetic to Ireland.  I could not over-state the importance of these connections both political and commercial.  My son, Alexander, is currently in Boston having been in Savannah, Atlanta and New York, promoting Slane Whiskey.  Without our American investors we would not be where we are today.

Then back to St. Patrick.  I have been in very different places on the day and apart from the green beer, diddley-eye bands and garish green tinsel decorations, the overwhelming sentiment is friendly and heart-warming.  These days communications are so sophisticated that we can almost leap across the oceans on screens into other people’s living rooms.  Back in the day, that sense of bonding with strangers because of our nationality was wonderful and for a short while you felt like one big happy family until more contentious subjects like the North came up.  Some might say, so what’s new.

So Joe Biden is coming back.  Folks in Ballina and the Cooley Peninsula are delighted .  The President’s affinity with the Republic is well known.  Less to the fore is the fact that his family also has English roots in West Sussex.  We should remember that he is coming as a result of an invitation he received from the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.  He quite clearly gets on better with Rishi than Boris and to Rishi’s credit he has made the North of Ireland and the Protocol a priority.  The President has to tread carefully and if possible give some comfort to those from the Unionist tradition.  After all 17 US Presidents were of Ulster/Scots ancestry.  If Jeffrey Donaldson could give a positive response to the Windsor framework, then Joe Biden could address Stormont.  What could be a better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

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