History in the making

What a week it's been.

First was the Queen's visit to Ireland - the first British monarch to set foot in the Republic of Ireland.

Then the Canucks put us through a rollercoaster of emotions, winning Game 2 without problems against the San Jose Sharks, then getting utterly defeated in Game 3, then coming back with a vengeance in Game 4 hitting in the goals like no-one's business, then the big decider will be tomorrow night when we could find out once and for all if the incredible Canucks make it through to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in seventeen years.

Not to mention the fires in Slave Lake, flooding in Manitoba and Quebec, tornadoes in Missouri (while we're on end of the world scenarios) and, quite fittingly, the "official" end of the world hailed for May 21st which, unless I've passed over and am writing from a parallel universe, turned out not to be true.

Phew.

And then, of course, how could we forget Obama's 24 hour sweeping visit to Ireland and his historic speech to a crowd of 25,000 Irish worshippers hanging on his every word. Best. Speech. Ever!!

Let's start with old Queenie. Her four day jaunt across the water was, to put it mildly, the 'end' of 800 years of misery between the two countries. At least for most of us. Yes, yes, some of us fought about it, as only we know best -- amongst ourselves -- but the majority of Irish people were very happy and relieved we had the whole sorry mess behind us. This is such a deep-seated issue for so many people both north and south of the border that it felt somewhat like a line had been drawn in the sand under the whole damn thing. Now if only my own tiffs were that easy to settle (and preferably before the 800 year mark, but I fear Oil of Olay -- or did they change it back to 'Ulay' again, like when they suddenly changed Jif to Cif which I still can't get my head around fifteen years later -- can only do so much!)

Her visit went swimmingly, much to any respectable Irish person's relief, and apart from a few attempted car bombs here and there (as you do), and a few hundred protesters causing mischief (and making, as this video shows, the Gardaí or Irish police force look...well...imbecilic to say the least), it was an historic time for Ireland as several of Queen Elizabeth II's stops held an important place in the Irish psyche....

The first day of her visit coincided with the 37th anniversary of the bloodiest day of the Troubles, in which 34 people were killed in four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan.

Then the Queen laid a wreath in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, which honours those who died fighting to free Ireland.

She also travelled to Croke Park stadium - perhaps one of the most sensitive sites in our minds due the massacre that happened there when British troops opened fire at a Gaelic football match in 1920, killing fourteen innocent people, and as one of Ireland's most popular stadiums, to this day.

Of course, she also had to see the Guinness Storehouse or it wouldn't be a trip to Ireland otherwise, as well as the Irish national stud because she loves her horses and even a concert where Ireland's biggest band - no Westlife, not U2! - got the opportunity to sing their wee hearts out.

Some people weren't best pleased with her speech as she didn't apologise for the troubles in Ireland outright, but the vast majority of reasonably minded people were content with the gesture and even her attempt at a few words of 'cúpla focail' when she addressed the crowd with, "A Úachtaráin, agus a chairde," meaning "President and friends" in Gaelic, to which President Mary McAleese apparently responded, "Wow" twice, which really surprised the English media. I'm not sure why that's surprising, we don't always respond with "Begorrah" and "Bejaysus", but the stereotype did give me a little chuckle. (For more great stereotypes like this, check out The Savage Eye which is a satirical Irish comedy show but -- be warned -- it's not for the faint hearted!)

All in all, it was a very successful trip and a real milestone for the two neighbours, and the Queen even wore green as she touched down on Irish soil...ya can't ask for better than that (anything was better than the canary yellow of the Royal Wedding only a few weeks before!)

Next on the agenda was the Canucks.

Oh Canucks, why must you toy with my heart so?!

One minute you're up, next minute you're down...it's like looking in the mirror for cripe's sake, now I know how my boyfriend feels! (Sorry to all you feminists out there shaking their fists at me, I'm not trying to subconsciously -- or consciously for that matter -- reinforce a female stereotype here, I'm only speaking brutally first-hand knowledge!)

I swear I am ON EDGE watching these games! Sometimes I feel like I just can't take it anymore and need to look away - that's how much passion I have invested in these games. It's not like sport at home. Although I enjoy watching football (or soccer to you Canucks) and Irish or 'Gaelic football' as it's known, or even hurling (which also gives me a bit of a heart attack if I'm honest, it's just so...well...rough!) But hockey has to be one of the most nail-biting sports I've watched so far.

The thing about it is that literally until the last second - and I mean LAST second - the whole direction of the game can change.

In "soccer" you can normally relax for at least the last ten minutes of the game as the chances of the losing team scoring are minimal, unless it's a fluke or they literally feel like they've nothing to lose and -- usually that is -- it's much too late by then.

In all my short time watching hockey, it's most usual for the results of a game to totally change in the last minute or two of the third period. And then, as if my nerves can take it, the dreaded OT (my friend Ange does a great impression of "OT" using her hands...it's very bemusing seeing an Irish lass do that in a room full of Canadians!!), where the first team to score are the winners. I mean, I know it's fair and it certainly gives a definitive answer to each game, whereas in soccer it can lead to draws and rematches, but it's just so...final!!

Like, what if you're just a bit knackered after sixty full minutes on the ice which, when you add in the gazillion ads every three minutes...and breaks...and even interviews during breaks which does just not happen in any other sport -- can you imagine Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sir Alex Ferguson (sorry for picking on all your idols, Man U fans, but I'm sure ye're used to it by now...ya gotta have some thick skin to support that team, YAHOW! ;) -- will all add up to one exhausted hockey player.

What if you're just not feeling it for those last few moments and then BOOM!, wham bam thank you ma'am, your opponents score and you're outta the game. And, although we're doing well so far in these playoffs and still have the advantage over the Sharks, we need to give our guys time off to recuperate before the Finals. So, to put it mildly it's really important they kick their asses to win the series as soon as they can to avoid further fatigue.

However, luckily this time the Canucks pulled through and hammered the poor Sharks in Game 4: 4-2, to take the lead 3-1 overall. Exciting times to be sure and begorrah!!

A lot of my friends don't understand why I suddenly seem to have jumped on the 'Nucks bandwagon (make room for me!) but I've been an avid supporter since my first week here two years ago on June 3rd, but I really, really, REALLY want them to win 1) for pride's sake and 2) because the party downtown is not something I want to miss in my time in this glorious land! I so believe the Canucks want this and need this, after seventeen long years. And I, still drunk on the love punch that was the Winter Olympics here in February 2010, want that feeling of celebration and camraderie back in the city, particularly downtown where I can still hear the cheers of adoring Canucks fans during every game, and which I listened to with delight every night of the Olympics. It's fun to hear complete strangers scream like wild animals and beep their horns from the comfort of your own home!!

The next big game is Tuesday night, May 24, seventeen years to the day since 1994 when the Canucks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 to put them into the Stanley Cup Finals for the very last time. Until now, we hope!

I must say some of the costumes for these playoffs have been delightfully tongue in cheek, although I do know some diehard Green Men fans were angry that the Sharks' seemed to have their own version, the "Orange Men" (that means something totally different and much more politically volatile in Ireland!)

That little gem got a good big chuckle out of me and my other half, whereas the poor woman who flashed her pierced nipples (can I just say, on behalf of most ordinary women out there..."ouch!") at the game, which were in turn flashed all over the daily papers, resulting in many feminists calling her a "chauvinist pig" for giving women in sport a bad name.

I can't say I disagree but I suspect the woman in question did not mean what she did and was absolutely mortified the next day when she woke up to go to work and saw her sorry image on every front page for miles around! I heard on the grapevine that she was fired as a result, but I haven't seen any news stories that corroborate that statement, apart from on discussion boards saying she was sitting in company seats...oo-er, big mistake! It's scary how one little mindless, drunken gesture can end careers, but with social networking, gossip and 24/7 news sites discussing events in real time, your image -- no matter how fleeting -- can be captured forever in the minds of a generation. Oh golly, I feel sorry for the poor girl now, that's the kind of hangover you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy!

And speaking of worst case scenarios [tenuous link], I must admit on a more serious note that the scenes in Slave Lake, Manitoba, Quebec and, more recently, in Missouri have been nothing short of heart-breaking. A huge 40% of the Slave Lake area has been left devastated as fires have ravaged the region, considered out of control by Monday, 24th May.

Seven thousand residents have been evacuated and have not been allowed back to assess the damage because of fears for homeowners' safety. I've never seen such scenes of total destruction. Coupled with the floods and tornadoes in the US -- which occurred two days after the presumed beginning of the 'end of the world' -- it really does seem Judgement Day might be just around the corner, expected to fall exactly five months from now on October 21st, 2011, which is a day after my 29th birthday. Turns out I don't have to worry about turning 30 after all!!

Amidst all this sadness and tales of gloom, there was one shimmer of hope on the horizon - that of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, arriving in Ireland on Air Force One for a whirlwind one day visit on Monday 23rd May. And yes, he's taking back the apostrophe!

This was another historic visit for my small land (it never rains but it pours!) and was the first visit by an American President since Bill Clinton "wowed" us all in 1995 and again in my hometown of Dundalk, Ireland, in 2000. Ironically, I was living and studying in France at that time so I missed that moment too although, like today, I was able to watch it live on the news and live vicariously through my Irish counterparts who were there to see it in person.

Obama was in Eire to visit his ancestral home as, like anyone who's anyone the world over, he has Irish roots and is eighth cousin to Henry Healy (I may even be related myself, who knows!) who the Irish media endearingly named 'Henry the Eighth.' Only in Ireland, eh?!

The charmingly down to earth nineteen year old welcomed Barack and Michelle Obama to his small village of Moneygall in Co. Offaly where, if I'm honest, very few Irish people ourselves had even heard of before this visit! This teeny weeny, very typical Irish village in the Midlands was well prepared security-wise months in advance with "Men In Black" style special agents scoping out the town brick by brick and, presumably if they get the odd day off, pint of Guinness after pint of Guinness!!

Now, I won't pretend to be a connoisseur (connoisseuse?) of the black stuff although I do like a tipple every now and again, but they do say that the Guinness in Ireland tastes the way it's meant to taste and that it just doesn't cut it abroad, so I really do hope the suits that surround the President and who most certainly have their work cut out for them every day of the week got just a little time off to sample our nation's tasty treats!

In fact, even the President himself got into the spirit of things and indulged a little with a cold pint during his visit, even preceded by a round of "slàinte" or "cheers" in Gaelic which made me warm to Obama even more. And as if we needed warming to him, I'm not afraid to say he's a hot bit of stuff altogether!! He even took a phone off a woman in the crowd and spoke to her mother who was cooking dinner...that mam's got major kudos for the rest of her life, who else can say that?!

The most incredible thing about him again, and I've said this in previous posts, is his natural talent as an orator. I thought he was good announcing the death of Bin Laden on our television screens only some weeks ago, and so much seems to have happened since then, but his skills as an inspirational leader in front of a crowd seem to be without bounds. Now he may read teleprompters and he may have people to write these speeches for him, but the simple truth is that I don't give a hoot. He is so confident and so poised that he instills such a sense of hope in me - and every Irish person that day - that the future may not be as dark as we all envision and, yes, some politicians can get it right.

(On a side note, check out this clever video editing too which shows, embarrassingly, the similarities between our Taoiseach, or Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny's speech introducing the President to a crowd of 25,000 in College Green, Dublin, and Barack's own acceptance speech when he won the Presidential Elections in 2008, although Enda, naturally, has denied any such plagiarism. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, right?! Surprisingly, his shouting approach reminded me a lot of Liam Neeson's rousing speech in the film Michael Collins circa 1996!)

Now, some critics say that Obama's speech was not all it was cracked up to be and that he's still a puppet for a corporate and corrupt America but, for a simple cailín like myself, I completely buy into the hype and thought his speech was the best show of leadership since John F. Kennedy's famous speech about the history of Irish-American relations when, like Barack, he came to visit his ancestral homeland, this time in June 1963. Actually, in truth and watching back these clips with much nostalgia, there's not too much of a difference between this President's visit in 2011 and JFK's nearly fifty years ago!)

He managed to rhyme off centuries' old histories of Irish-American ties back to Daniel O'Connell days and brought some much needed positivity back to Irish soil by announcing that America will stand by us in our time of need, which we are living right now. It was particularly poignant for myself and my boyfriend watching it as he appealed to all those Irish emigrants living abroad to escape the recession not to lose hope and to return one day in a blaze of glory (at least that's the message I took from it!) I'm not ashamed to admit it, I even shed a little tear!

This little country, that inspires the biggest things - your best days are still ahead. Our greatest triumphs, in America and Ireland alike, are still to come. And, Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, or your challenges are too great, that we can’t do something, that we shouldn’t even try, think about all that we’ve done together. Remember that whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner. And if they keep on arguing with you, just respond with a simple creed: Is féidir linn. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Is féidir linn.
Now, of course, the cost for the Queen's trip and Obama's was estimated at over 30 million euro in security alone, which seems quite excessive for a country that's meant to be broke but, in the grander scheme of things, it somehow seems worth it. For the sense of celebration it has brought to the island. For the boost in people's morale which the Irish government can't fix, and certainly not the bankers or the IMF (which, understandably, has its attentions focused elsewhere at the moment, but I can't even begin to get into that debacle!)

For the greater ties it builds between Ireland and our cousins across the water in the US (and Canada, I haven't forgotten you oh Canada!)

And for my own links to my own wee country, seeing it featured in such a positive light on the world stage (well, apart from Obama's limo 'The Beast' getting stuck at the US embassy in Dublin...just typical, you have to laugh!)

But, for all its pomp and pageantry, its good natured stereotypes showing pub scenes and simple village folk preparing for the biggest visit of their lives, it brought pride back to our country and took our minds off all the doom 'n' gloom, if only for a week.

And, some say, they'd never seen the President so happy in his own skin and so happy to be "home."

You had us at "Hello" Obama, is féidir linn na hÉireann - YES WE CAN!!!

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