Cher Bono, wash out your mouth with soap

The U2 frontman's Father Jack moment doesn't mean we should pardon his French, writes Aoife Drew

PRIDE: Aurelie Filippetti gave Bono the prestigious award

Bono. We can't live with or without him. Last week saw yet another elevation for Bono. He's already got Grammys, an honourary knighthood from Britain and the freedom of Dublin, not to mention a Legion of Honour that he received from Jacques Chirac. It's enough to give you vertigo. And to top it all off, he has now been made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France's highest cultural honour, in a Paris ceremony.

It was a beautiful day. Invitees were staring at the sun as French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti hung the silk ribbon with a gold medal around his neck and said: "In the name of an entire nation, won over by your immense talent. . . Cher Bono, we make you a commandeur de l'ordre des arts et des lettres."

His wife, Ali Hewson, daughter Eve, U2's manager Paul McGuinness, Adam Clayton and Guggi were among the guests, as well as Irish Ambassador Paul Kavanagh and his wife Rosemary, the former French culture minister Jack Lang and the Russian model Natalia Vodianova.

Bono, always one to move in mysterious ways, expressed his gratitude by saying: "You have liberte, egalite, fraternite; we have arse, girls, and drink."

Ah, good old Father Jack. Hilarious he might have been, but you couldn't take him anywhere. On this occasion, you might say the same thing about Bono.

For any Irishman or woman, this is a big moment. The only other Irish person to win the award is poet Seamus Heaney. Other recipients include David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Clint Eastwood.

And in fairness, Bono deserves it. He is a well-known Francophile, supporting the French cultural exception (state protection for the arts and the exclusion of cultural products from trade talks), vacationing every year in his holiday home in Eze near Nice in the south of France and even dropping in occasionally to the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, to the delight of the Irish community.

Clearly, the French think he's great. They just can't get enough of Sunday Bloody Sunday, which still gets a lot of radio play. If you ask any French person what they know about Ireland, there is a strong chance they'll say: "U2".

So why did Bono feel the desire to play the humility card? In saying "we have arse, girls and drink", this translates as "ah shure we're just big eejits from a little old country called Ireland, you've probably never heard of it". Surely as cultural ambassador it would have been more appropriate to do a bit of subtle boasting and show a bit of pride.

Ok, so it's true that we do have "arse, drink and girls" in abundance. We only have to look to the Dail to see that, where in the recent abortion debate TD Tom Barry pulled fellow TD Aine Collins on to his lap for a quick squeeze after a few drinks were taken.

Sure it was only a bit of craic and as Bono said in his recent TV interview with Gay Byrne "the Irish male is a piece of work, is he not?"

Maybe Bono was stuck in a moment he couldn't get out of and was looking for something to say, but it's unlikely. He had just been comparing himself to fellow Irish Francophile Samuel Beckett, musing "he wrote about the absurd; I am absurd... He wrote about misery. I can be a miserable bastard". Perhaps Bono still hasn't found what he's looking for, but what is with all the faux modesty?

It's all the more unnecessary because the French don't really do humility. Unlike us, a poor post-colonial "rock in the North Atlantic" as Bono puts it, the French have never forgotten the good old days of the empire. They certainly don't play down their achievements, so why should we? How long, how long must we sing this song of being a nation of leprechauns?

But Bono's not a complete lemon. After his Father Ted moment, he redeemed himself by referring to Ireland as "another great republic. . . a beacon of democracy, the land of the brave". That's more like it.

And in recognition of the fact that sometimes you can't make it on your own, he said that the award belongs to the band, "I've got the biggest mouth and the loudest voice but the music we make comes from each other". It was the sweetest thing.

As commander, there'll be plenty more opportunities for Bono to remind the world how fantastic Ireland is. But in the meantime, he should leave the "arse, drink and girls" to Father Jack.

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