By Kevin Kelley
Attendees of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland’s annual Charity Banquet and Ball saw two sides — one serious and the other fun and friendly — of Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.
Kenny, whose title in Gaelic is “Taoiseach,” meaning “leader” or “chiefton,” was the guest of honor at the ball, which took place Saturday night at LaCentre Conference and Banquet Center. During his stay to Northeast Ohio, Kenny also visited the Cleveland Clinic and spoke before the City Club of Cleveland.
The 61-year-old leader showed his serious side while speaking about the deep economic troubles his country has endured in recent years. During his City Club talk, he noted the current unemployment rate is 14.7 percent, nearly double that of the U.S.
Although Ireland still faces economic problems, such as making more cuts to balance its budget, Kenny described his nation as ripe for a turnaround.
“I know, deep down inside myself, that when Ireland puts its mind to a task, nothing can stop the Irish when we’re on our game,” Kenny said.
Ireland’s universities are strong in the areas of engineering and agriculture, he said. Ireland is one of the best places where foreign corporations can invest, he added.
The prime minister’s visit to the Cleveland Clinic was not just a photo opportunity. In his speech Kenny noted that the greatest cluster of medical device companies in Europe is near the Irish counties of Galway and Mayo.
In an almost poetic way, Kenny compared the struggles his countrymen have been through to those experiences by the Irish immigrants in America of previous centuries. Just as the Irish immigrants built successful lives in America, the people of Ireland will also emerge from the current recession to be successful, he asserted.
“Times of difficulty have always brought out the best of the Irish — he capacity to deal with, challenge and defeat adversity,” Kenny said in his 30-minute speech.
Kenny, whose influence will increase when Ireland assumes the rotating European Union presidency in January, said he wants to see trade between his country and the U.S. increase.
“The Irish-American relationship is more than one of friendship,” he said. “It’s one of real family”
Kenny encouraged Americans of Irish descent to visit his country in 2013 during a yearlong tourism program known as The Gathering. In addition to providing a boost the Irish economy, The Gathering will be “an opportunity for the Irish family to come home,” Kenny said.
Mayor Dennis Clough said Kenny was pleased to hear about Westlake’s sister-city relationship with Tralee, Ireland.
After his speech, Kenny showed his friendly side by spending at least an hour greeting and posing for photos with attendees of the ball.
The nonprofit Mayo Society funds charities associated with Mayo, a county in northwest Ireland. The organization also annually sponsors two John Carroll University students who study at the National University of Ireland, Galway.