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Obama, Cloyne and an 'elderly poet': how the world's media saw Ireland in 2011

It’s been an eventful year for the nation, here’s how the international media saw the big events.

THE PAST TWELVE months have been the most extraordinary for news in Ireland and internationally but what have been the events that made headlines not just here but also in the international media? TheJournal.ie takes a look…

At the end of 2010, Ireland was internationally viewed as the poster-boy for a failed eurozone nation. The bust followed the boom and we had the ignominy of seeking a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Now we are the poster-boy for austerity that’s working. It’s harsh but we’re doing okay and we’re the good boys of bailed-out nations.

But rewind almost 12 months and we were baying for blood in the form a general election. When it did happen it was a little earlier than expected at the end of February and as the first bailed-out nation to hold a parliamentary vote it was keenly watched by international observers.

Al Jazeera noted that we wanted tourists to see a bit of “Celtic charm” but alas it was the “humiliating bailout” which was damaging our reputation:

YouTube: AlJazeeraEnglish

The outcome was not totally unexpected but the extent to which Fianna Fáil was decimated across the country came as a bit of a shock. Indeed French paper Le Monde probably summed it up best in describing it as a “crushing defeat” for the party which had dominated government for over a decade.

It was the demise of Fianna Fáil which dominated international media coverage so much so that some outlets couldn’t even get the name or gender of the country’s new leader right as we reported on in March when the New York Times said that Enda Kenny had become Taoiseach. All fine so far.

But then the paper went on to say: “Ms Kenny’s center-right Fine Gael party will now govern in a coalition with the center-left Labour Party.” The mistake was one of a couple including Reuters reference to our new leader as “Edna Kenny”. We’re not sure if it was a typo or another case of mistaken gender.

But if there was doubt around Kenny’s name or gender internationally that was dispelled entirely when he came to prominence worldwide for an extraordinary response to the publication of the Cloyne report into clerical sex abuse in the Cork diocese.

On 20 July, the Taoiseach condemned the ‘dysfunction and disconnection’ of the Catholic Church in a speech which resonated worldwide and in countries similarly affected by abuse scandals.

The speech did not immediately change the nature of the State’s relationship with the church but it did set a marker for future relations. Here’s how EuroNews reported the initial news of the damning Cloyne report.


New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said Kenny’s speech was a “breathtaking” intervention which “thrilled” a “bankrupt and battered Eire” direly in need of “a shot of muscular national pride”. The London Independent saw this as Ireland’s moment when it stood up to the church in a way it had never done before.

The strength of the Taoiseach’s speech earned praise from many sections of Irish society and his popularity was boosted as a result. He enjoyed similar popularity ratings off the back of the huge success that was the Queen’s visit and that of US president Barack Obama days later in late May.

The Royal visit was heralded worldwide as an indication that “Ireland’s troubled relationship with the royal family was finally banished” in the words of The Daily Telegraph.

But Iran’s Press TV, reported that “the central streets of Dublin echoed with chanting in support of the union of the two Irelands while angry protestors burned UK flags.” BBC News and Sky News in the UK carried pictures of those who vehemently opposed the visit and made their feelings known:

YouTube: nsotd2

If there was nine to ten per cent of the population who did not support the visit as BBC News reported, there was little opposition if any to the arrival of Barack Obama on a whistle-stop tour of Ireland that included the White House press corp.

One of them, Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico, noted rather dryly that as Obama emerged from Áras an Uachtaráin on the morning of his 23 May visit, an Irish reporter shouted: ‘Mr. President, may we ask your first impressions of Ireland?’ President Obama would only smile and wave his hand.

The visit was noted mainly as a quick stop en-route to a state visit to the UK to cement that famous ’special relationship’ but the international media did report extensively on the pints and the craic in Obama’s - or is that O’Bama’s  – ancestral home of Moneygall.

As AP noted in a way only AP could: ‘Obama Visits Irish Town, Has Guinness’:


And in case  you were wondering, he finished it, as we reported a few days later.

While the American president made headlines here it was the race to elect our own president which made one or two headlines over in the US. The campaign was notable for the presence of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness or as the Huffington Post incorrectly referred to him: ‘IRA Leader Martin McGuinness May Become President of Ireland’.

It was an eclectic mix of candidates, of that there was little doubt. Perhaps BBC News summed it up best at the time when it described some of those in the race: “A gay-rights campaigner, a former pop star and a former IRA commander are among the candidates competing.”

In the end none of that trio became president, that honour falling to Michael D Higgins or as one Latin American news service described him, an ”elderly poet”.

And finally…

But it wasn’t all serious news and current affairs in 2011, in November the New York Times took an opportunity to report on the fall in potato consumption in Ireland as a sign that it was not just “the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and the centrality of the pub” that were on the wane:

“Fresh potatoes are losing their place as the carbohydrate of choice on the Irish plate, prompting a national campaign to arrest the decline,” Douglas Dalby wrote referring to Bord Bia’s push to love the spud which we reported on at the time.

And finally, while we made the international news for some right and wrong reasons this past year, the story of a woman who died after an allergic reaction to sex she had with a dog was definitely a viral and worldwide internet hit for all the wrong, totally and utterly wrong, reasons.

The story was reported on Gawker and Huffington Post in the United States. Gawker probably summed it up best when it said that after reading the infamous story “you will never have to read another weird news story ever again.”

Review 2011: #ge11, #Egypt, #tigerblood: The year in Twitter hashtags

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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