Obama in Belfast

He didn’t get a plate of wings at Ryan’s, nor did he join the queue at Boojum. Instead, he simply spoke to a select, invited audience of 2,000 mostly young people, at the Waterfront Hall then left the city again. He spoke of how far Northern Ireland has come in the peace process, how Northern Ireland is the blueprint for peace in other parts of the world currently faced with conflict, and that we have now have “ordinary”, but have a to work to keep at it:

None of that would have been imaginable a generation ago. And Belfast is a different city. Once-abandoned factories are rebuilt. Former industrial sites are reborn. Visitors come from all over to see an exhibit at the MAC, a play at the Lyric, a concert here at Waterfront Hall. Families crowd into pubs in the Cathedral Quarter to hear “trad.” Students lounge at cafés, asking each other, “What’s the craic?” So to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, it’s the manifestation of sheer, bloody genius. This island is now chic.

And these daily moments of life in a bustling city and a changing country, it may seem ordinary to many of you — and that’s what makes it so extraordinary. That’s what your parents and grandparents dreamt for all of you — to travel without the burden of checkpoints, or roadblocks, or seeing soldiers on patrol. To enjoy a sunny day free from the ever-present awareness that violence could blacken it at any moment. To befriend or fall in love with whomever you want. They hoped for a day when the world would think something different when they heard the word “Belfast.” Because of their effort, because of their courage that day has come. Because of their work, those dreams they had for you became the most incredible thing of all — they became a reality.

As I’ve aways said: I’d much rather there was crime here for any reason other than religious, political or tribal divisions.

Barack Obama almost pleaded with the audience, the youth — the people — to remain in peace. Please.

“You need to get this right. You set the example for those who are seeking peace to end conflicts of their own. You are their blueprint to follow. You are the proof of what is possible. Hope is contagious. They are watching to see what you do next.”

The emphasis was certainly on today’s youth, as it generally is, though it is the next generation which will cement the civil liberties being fought across the world today, and for Northern Ireland to remain in peace it will take harnessing of the current youth, to break down the walls and further the idea of a “shared future”.

I don’t just see a bunch of teenagers. I see the people who will be moving our world forward in the years ahead. — Michelle Obama

But they aren’t wrong: there is still a lot to be done!

So while there was a low turn-out for the anti-G8 rally at the weekend, the internet was alight over Obama’s visit and his words, wit and inspiration. It’s evident that as a nation we do care deeply about bettering ourselves and our little backwater and want to bring peace here.

Or maybe we need some perspective…

Read the full transcript and watch the speeches.

The Waterfront Hall © Phil O’Kane

Photo of the day: Sammy Wilson and Gerry Adams © Press Eye

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