Sunday 4 December 2016

Lise Hand: The three small words that gave us all hope - 'Is feider linn, yes we can'

The president's charisma in stirring speech could warm the coldest souls

Published 24/05/2011 | 05:00

HIS voice, that velvet-rich, immense voice, rose and soared and his words were carried by the wind down Dame Street, around College Green, up towards Christchurch, over the sea of people who had come to hear him.

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"Is féidir linn. Yes we can. Yes we can. Is féidir linn," Barack Obama called into the late afternoon as the electric air crackled around him.

A massive cheer rumbled and rolled down the carpet of humanity crammed into the city centre.

They were still so powerful, those three small words that swept him into the White House on a wave of hope and a desire for change.

And they lost none of their magic as they tumbled in Irish from the lips of one of the most extraordinary orators of our times.

It's hard to see where all that power and poetry is contained in the slender frame of the 44th President of America, but on a blustery night in Dublin city, his charisma warmed the chilliest soul.

He had a tough act to follow, after all. In 1995, that other great communicator of American politics, Bill Clinton, bowled over his audience in the exact same spot, outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green.

But no bother to Obama. He's at home on a stage, sleeves rolled up at an intimate town hall meeting in the Midwest, or unleashing his lyrical prose in the cauldron of a packed stadium.

We knew from watching him on Election Night in Chicago's Grant Park that Obama in full oratorical flight is a sight to behold. And so, as the afternoon wore on, the anticipation began to build among the audience, which just grew and grew.

There was music from the likes of Imelda May, Jedward and Westlife, but they were really only filling in time, a floor show to a genuine, A-list superstar.

And then, at 5.45pm, the first real roar erupted when the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, strode out with his wife Fionnuala.

What a week he's had. But Enda rose once again to the occasion and gave a resounding welcome to the president -- and he delivered for Obama, who is in Ireland not just to seek his own roots in Moneygall, Co Offaly, but also to gain the attention of the formidable block of Irish-American voters.

"This evening, my call is directly to those 40 million Irish-Americans, and whether they are listening and watching in New York or New Haven or in San Diego or St Louis, whether they are Irish by blood, or by marriage or by desire -- we, your Irish family, are right here," Enda bellowed to cheers and amusement. It was heart-warming to think that out there are still folk who, in the wake of the Celtic crash, would desire to be Irish.

Enda was only half way through his speech when a bone-rattling roar erupted in front of him. And out on to the stage, hand-in-hand, strode Barack and Michelle Obama, waving and smiling as a chant of "Obama, Obama" echoed around the buildings.

The Taoiseach wound up his introducing by turning to Obama. "He doesn't just speak about the American Dream -- he is the American Dream," he said as the president strode forward to the podium, which was surrounded on three sides by bullet-proof glass.

He started off lightly, quipping: "I've come here to find the apostrophe we lost along the way."

He offered his condolences over the death of former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, before a smooth segue into acknowledging the huge audience before him.

"It certainly feels like 100,000 welcomes. We feel very much at home. I feel very much more at home after that pint that I had," he added, unleashing his dazzling grin.

Slowly and gracefully, the speech built momentum and Obama wove together the shared experiences of Ireland and America and paid tribute to the generations of immigrants who travelled from this country -- as did his own great-great-great grandfather from Moneygall in 1850 -- to put down roots in his land.

"Never has a nation so small inspired so much in another," he proclaimed. "You could say there's always been a little green behind the red, white and blue."

Waves of emotion poured from the crowd, many of them young people who have suddenly found themselves facing bleak options at a time when their dreams are shattered.

Before the final cheers had quite subsided, he was down in front of the stage, shaking hands, cuddling babies, signing autographs, shooting the breeze.

He was in no hurry. After all, he was officially among his own now, having being baptised by Sir Arthur of Guinness in Moneygall.

As he reached the end of the barriers, a girl leaned forward and handed him her mobile phone. All of a sudden, Glynis Walls of Skerries, Co Dublin, found herself chatting to the President of the United States.

Afterwards, a flustered 18-year-old Jessica Walls couldn't believe what had happened.

"He was so nice about it -- he didn't mind at all," she said. So what did the 44th Prez say to her Ma?

"He said, 'Your daughter's really great and she's having a wonderful day and it's beautiful out here and I hope you have a good day too," explained an astonished Jessica.

And then the reality hit her. "Oh my god -- he touched my phone!" she squealed.

Obama didn't let us down, and he left us with his unforgettable call to arms.

"Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, your challenges are too great and we can't do something, that we shouldn't even try, think about all that we've done together, remember that whenever 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 feidir linn. Yes we can."

Oh my God, he touched us all.

Irish Independent Supplement

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