Veering West

COLM TOBIN: Thoughts of Biden, Bono and binge-watching billionaires

April 17th, 2023 11:00 AM

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I AM deeply immersed in Connacht as I write this, veering West again but in a bit of a different direction this week.

I am looking out of the hotel library window at Mweelrea, the largest mountain in Connacht which stands at 814 metres and flanks Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only proper fjord. Our accommodation is nestled amongst the rolling foothills and the many meandering sheep, who are as omnipresent as the presence of a phone signal is absent. It’s bliss.

The kids love the sheep and get excited when they appear along the very well-maintained mountain roads. I don’t have the heart to tell them that the furry little b*****ds are essentially denuding the whole valley of natural woodland and bush, and thereby destroying the planet, bite by bite. Perhaps a conversation for another day.

We’re staying in a ‘resort’ hotel, part adventure centre for the kiddos, and part lodge and spa for the adults, a place trying to be all things to all people, and carrying it all off pretty well. It’s a weekend the extended family have been looking forward to for many months, and how wonderful it feels to be able to gather together again after those years of lockdown and isolation.

The kids are hyperactively excited about their first stay in a hotel where you get to go and pick out your breakfast every morning and even go out for dinner every evening! I only wish they’d go for more fruit and yoghurt instead of the various iterations of chocolate-flavoured cereal on offer. Sure it’s their holidays, I mutter to myself, tucking into my third daily fry in a row. 

It’s hard not to relax into a place like this when surrounded by the almost supernaturally stunning landscape. The mountains come into view from all angles, and the mists and rains sweep in across the valley of the fjord, giving us about forty shades of weather over the three or so days we’re here. All this natural beauty did, of course, prove useful again this week as Sleepy Joe arrived into town on Airforce One – or the back of a donkey, if you were to believe some of the pre-trip hype.

Tourism Ireland loves to make hay – on social media – at times like these, offering up plenty of green fields, shimmering lakes and celestial mountain ranges rolled out on Instagram, Twitter and various US rolling news networks.

It’s a dance we’re well used to as a nation, and you could be cynical and paint it all as adventures in paddywhackery. In fact, it’s a shame we couldn’t find some West Cork links for the man as it might be the best chance to alleviate the pothole situation.

The economics underpinning this visit are all very real, of course, and have been very meaningful for hundreds of thousands of our people since our role as poster boys for globalisation and American capitalism have pulled the country into prosperity and transformed our economy and workforce over the course of thirty years. Tell that to the couple in their thirties looking to find a place to live, though.

With demographics going the way they are in the US, this could easily have been the last time a White House President who so defined himself (or herself) as Irish will set aside four full days for a State visit. Given that the same President can’t find the time to attend the coronation of King Charles, you get a sense of how significant this is, and this week has marked another deepening of this crucial special relationship, with images captured for the ages, and the copious tourism campaigns to follow.

Bono by the book

I’VE been reading Bono’s book Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story while I’ve been out West all week. It’s a great read, all told, and a brilliant insight into the inner workings of one of Ireland’s most successful cultural exports.

I am one of the minority of Irish people who has been cured of the cynicism around U2, and particularly Bono.

His activism around debt forgiveness and aid for the developing world has been hugely important and I happen to love a lot of their music, too, especially the stuff up to the mid-nineties. Bono’s faith is the main seam running through his entire life. 

What strikes me about Hewson is his willingness to make a show of himself for higher purposes and to serve those less fortunate than him, even if a lot of it can be wrapped in an often cringeworthy rock ‘n’ roll-by-numbers delivery. 

And how he’s stayed true to his original mission as an activist for peace is an example for any young Irish person to follow. 

And no, I don’t care that much about the band’s tax affairs, thanks for asking.

Success of Succession

ONE of the main benefits of being away all of the Easter weekend was that I managed to avoid all the spoilers online for the latest episode of Succession, the best TV show of its generation which is moving inexorably towards a final season climax in the coming weeks. 

The idea to drop episodes weekly rather than launch them all together is a relief to those of us who might not have been able to avoid binge-watching them all in one go.

It goes to show that the old Irish phrase ‘an rud is annamh is iontach’ still holds a whole lot of truth. When the episodes do come around, like Presidential visits, we get to enjoy them all the more. 

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