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The wrong room

We met in House of Commons Committee Room 18. Room 18 is just three rooms away from a room which has great significance in Irish history.

In December 1890, Committee Room 15 was the venue for the famous row within the Irish Parliamentary Party which led to the downfall of one of the great Irish political leaders, Charles Stewart Parnell.

Passion and politics

Mr Parnell had had a long standing affair with a married woman, Kitty O’Shea. In the late 19th century, this was not acceptable to many in his party or the wider public and led to his resignation.

If you want to get a sense of the passions and divisions associated with Parnell’s fall, read the Christmas dinner scene in the early part of James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist.”

Even if we did not meet in the most interesting Committee Room from an historical viewpoint, there was a postscript of modern-day Irish interest.

Committee member

Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the SDLP, is a member of the Committee. Mark and I are long standing friends so we spoke in the corridor after the meeting.

Yes we can

Mark told me of his visit to Washington the previous week for the St Patrick’s Day ceremonies in the White House. There had been much comment about President Obama’s inclusion in his welcoming speech of a phrase from the Irish language – “Is feidir linn” – which is the translation of his main campaign phrase “Yes we can.”

Autographs and fadas

Mark had brought a small booklet containing the President’s Inaugural Address and some other speeches with him to the White House. Through the good offices of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, it had been autographed for Mark’s five year old daughter, Déarbhla, by the President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Brian Cowen.

I asked Mark in some amazement did the President manage to spell his daughter’s name correctly as Déarbhla is not an easy name for a non-Irish ear. “Yes”, he said, “he got it right with some help from the Taoiseach – but he left out the fada.”

It just goes to prove that even for someone as politically and linguistically talented as President Obama, you can’t win them all!