ON ST PATRICK’S DAY this year the Taoiseach presented US president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden with limited editions of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and The Cure at Troy with inscriptions by the poet. In his dedication to Obama, Seamus Heaney quotes from the poem’s introduction of the character of Beowulf as “a man who comes in an hour of need . . . there was no one else like him alive”. The first lady Michelle Obama was presented with a collection of Eavan Boland’s poems, and her daughters Sasha and Malia were each given a copy of Bairbre McCarthy’s The Keeper of the Crock of Gold. The reception that evening included a reading by poet Paul Muldoon and music by the Shannon Rovers pipe band.
What does this tell us? It indicates, surely, that songs, music and poetry are a valuable currency. Out of the many possible gifts he could have given, the Taoiseach chose to present the president and his family with works of creative imagination, the kind of imagination that is in fact readily associated with Ireland and Irishness, the imagination that fuels films, rock songs, symphonies, theatre as well as novels, short stories and poems.