There is nothing sweeter to a Welshman than confusion about the Irish, especially when the confusion comes from the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States (though only a little, in the case of Mr. Pence) and, best of all, from the speaker of the house, because he is actually of Irish descent—nothing sweeter: nid oes unrhyw beth felysach to Cymro. And in this sweetness, the Irish turn out to be rather multi-culti; a bit Irish, a bit Nigerian, and a wee bit Scot.
Why? Well, it stems, I suppose, from the irrational rivalry between the Welsh and the Irish, a contest that we Welsh have pretty much never won. Of course, despite their endless rivalrly, the Welsh and Irish have often been united. Who could forget the Battle of Banbridge, the 100th anniversary of which approaches in July four years hence? Then Welsh and Irish stood firm against the Scots and English, achieving Irish independence. But not Welsh independence. And that is why, I suppose, the Welsh love it when President Trump gets an “Irish” proverb so hilariously wrong.
What did President Trump do this time, you might be wondering, if you haven’t been following the “Irish in the News” section of your local paper. Well, according to David Quinn of People magazine, in the midst of the visit of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to Washington D.C., Mr. Trump quoted (properly in a speech, not a nattering via twittering) an apparently allegedly Irish proverb:
“As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of a proverb—and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it.”
This was particularly poignant as Mr. Quinn tells it, because there were no less than twenty reporters from Ireland stationed nearby. There was the annual Shamrock Ceremony, during which the American president ritualistically receives a gift bowl of shamrocks. Then, having accepted the gift, the president is called upon, of course, to say a few words. This is when Mr. Trump’s speech went off the rails, so to say, for he cited not an Irish proverb but the second stanza of a poem, “Remember to Forget,” by a Nigerian poet (Albashir Adam Alhassan), of which I quote the first two stanzas here:
Always remember to forget,
The things that make you sad,
But never forget to remember,
The things that make you glad.
Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue,
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.
Ironically, Mr. Alhassan, according to NBC News (in an article by Mary O’Hara and Alexander Smith) is a Muslim. So, how did Mr. Trump go from Ireland to Nigeria, from the celebration of the legacy of a Christian evangelist such as St. Patrick to the gentle but certainly not Irish words of Mr. Alhassan? Can’t answer that one.
While Mike Pence’s “Top of the Morning,” spoken to a select audience representing Ireland at a breakfast that he was hosting at his residence to honor the Irish, drew the overly sensitive twittering response of an Irish journalist by the name of Órla Ryan, who stated in all caps that the expression is not used, still the more hilarious bit came from another Ryan, our very own speaker of the house, who attributed golf to the Irish (when every real golfer knows that it is a Scottish game in origin).
What lessons can we learn about ourselves—whether we are Irish or Welsh or Nigerian or something altogether different—from this series of ridiculous missteps on St. Patrick’s Day? First, perhaps, we can learn to lighten up. We live in an age when everyone takes everything and everyone else (and themselves!) so seriously. Good gracious, can we learn to be gracious again? Second, maybe we should learn some real Irish proverbs, for some are quite wonderful; even a Welshman will admit that. Try this one, a beautiful and no doubt somewhat familiar Irish blessing:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
That’s a nice one, and would have been even nicer than the quote from Mr. Alhassan’s poem. But if Mr. Trump was feeling grouchier, he could instead, had he done his homework, have cited a much stronger verse, also quite Irish, one that doesn’t remember to forget but actually remembers not to forget:
May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.
That’s a lot firmer, as it were, than what Mr. Trump actually said. And given the world in which we live perhaps more appropriate.
But enough of citing missteps that were intended to honor the Irish and making fun of the Irish for it. Let’s close with one more Irish proverb, a good one—multi-culti as it spans all cultures (at least where potatoes grow)—and kind, to boot: “It’s easy to halve the potato where there’s love.” I like that one.
And now, to quote the vice president, “Top of the morning to you!”