[This dates back to a time, in the late 1990s, when I wrote a monthly column for theNewfoundland Telegram about connections between Ireland and Newfoundland, where I had been brought up for a while and visited a number of times since.]
Official Tourism Awareness Month in Newfoundland finds my wife and I over here wearing an extensive range of provincial lapel pins, thinking about holidays, and trying to come up with a new cocktail.
Let me explain.
It all started when, upon returning from our honeymoon in Thailand we found Dublin overrun with Newfoundlanders keen for us to attend the social events connected with their business mission here.
The first evening was actually spent on Canadian soil, at the ambassador and his very hospitable wife’s beautiful home (opposite Bono’s place) in south County Dublin. It was quite a gathering, in the most impressive of settings - a spectacular view of Dublin Bay across the many tree tops of their extensive grounds.
There Sinéad and I met minister for industry, trade and technology, Sandra Kelly, and it was she who gave us the brooches. She insisted Sinéad have the Newfoundland dog one in particular, as it matched her outfit. She handed me a palmful of other pins which I have been rotating on my suits ever since.
That evening of very friendly chat culminated in the ambassador and his traditional music friends - with whom he plays weekly in a small venue in north County Dublin - accompanying Ron Hynes in what became the soundtrack of the mission: ‘Sonny’s Dream’. A hundred well-watered voices joined Ron in his irresistable chorus.
The next time we heard the song was a mere hangover later. It was the evening that the Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, officially welcomed the delegation in Dublin Castle. Although not as eloquent as his Newfoundland counterpart, Ahern made it clear that the province had charmed its way into the hearts of the Irish administration, so deeply indeed that the relationship has crossed the famously divisive Irish political party lines.
Tobin’s more lyrical reply generated a warm round of applause from the largely suit-wearing audience. He informed us jokingly of having been tipped off about the Taoiseach’s need to get away quickly that evening to see the Manchester United soccer game on TV, and only spoke long enough to highlight his sense of being in a second home in Ireland.
It was much later that night, in a more relaxed and intimate setting that Hynes was again asked to play ‘Sonny’ for us. His guitar filled out the tie-loosening sing-song into the wee small hours.
On the final night of the delegation’s very productive stay in Ireland, Sinéad and I found ourselves in a small pub just on the outskirts of the city center, again surrounded by inexhaustible Newfoundlanders of all ages. I watched Tobin listening privately to the stories of exchange students from the Brother T. I. Center in St. John’s, listened to him pay public tribute to those who had worked behind the scenes preparing the delegation’s way, including in particular Craig Dobin (Honorary Council for Ireland), and joined him in calling one last time for Ron’s ‘Sonny’.
Once the Guinness had overpowered my reserve I spent the evening telling any one who’d listen about my honeymoon in the East, and how the same model needs to be applied to Newfoundland. The new generation of wealthy Irish globe trotters must be informed of the wonderful adventure holiday awaiting them in the exotic Newfoundland-Labrador outdoors.
I also advanced the idea that the rapidly developing special relationship between our two islands should be marked with the creation of a new cocktail, à la Irish Coffee. Something with Screech and Guinness in it, perhaps. I propose we call it ‘Across the pond’, but I’m relying on Telegram readers to come up with the right mix of drinks.