Rhyming hope and Heaney: Frank McNally on political poetry, rubbing Princess Grace, and a brand of shoes named “Bertie”

Joe Biden gets some brownie points for pronunciation

Even if he couldn’t remember the “military guy” shot at Béal na Bláth, Joe Biden gained a few Irish-heritage credibility points this week when pronouncing Seamus Heaney’s surname in the old style, to rhyme with “rainy”.

Maybe his authenticity was accidental. But it’s how another Ulster poet, Patrick Kavanagh, used to say Heaney’s name. I’m told it’s also how the older residents of a Dublin suburb, Raheny, pronounce the last two syllables, or used to.

Trying to rhyme hope with history is any case unrealistic, on a par with expecting Jeffrey Donaldson and Michell O’Neill to perform the duet from Riverdance.

And speaking of Kavanagh, I was delighted to see that a collection of his greatest hits, as read by various celebrities on the recent best-selling album Almost Everything, is now on its way to the White House, as a gift from the Irish president.

No offence to Heaney, however pronounced, but he has been somewhat overworked in the 25 years since the Good Friday agreement. Perhaps president Biden might now consider giving him a rest, especially that line about hope and history rhyming. Trying to rhyme hope with history is any case unrealistic, on a par with expecting Jeffrey Donaldson and Michell O’Neill to perform the duet from Riverdance.


Kavanagh’s Peace, read on the album by Hozier, could in future take some of the strain off Heaney. It’s certainly a beautiful poem, if maybe a bit oblique for political use.

On the other hand, there’s also Epic, read by Jessie Buckley, the subject of which is, after all, a border dispute. Its opening lines might introduce much needed perspective on the Northern conflict: I have lived in important places, times/When great events were decided; who owned/That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land/Surrounded by our pitchfork armed claims.

Kavanagh’s idea was to juxtapose a land dispute between Inniskeen neighbours with the Trojan War. The comparison may seem ridiculous. But the row over Northern Ireland is what you’d get, probably, if you took the two conflicts and split the difference.

Statue modesty

My complaint about the molestation of Molly Malone’s statue in Dublin (Diary, Thursday) brought a response from concerned reader Linda Foley, who agrees that the addition of a “shawl” might save the poor fishmonger from further indignity at the hands of luck-seeking tourists.

But Linda also worries that the new Grace Kelly sculpture in Newport, Co Mayo, will also soon be a target for the global statue-rubbing craze. And now that President Biden has combined with the Banshees of Inisherin to unleash a new wave of tourism on Mayo, I fear she may be right.

Based on a well-known photograph, the seated sculpture is an austere representation of the princess, elegantly attired in a shoulderless yet modest dress. Unlike Molly, she has no cleavage on display. But neither had the statue of Juliet in Verona, which didn’t stop tourists shining its bosom to the point where it had to be moved into a museum for protection.

The Grace Kelly sculpture may appear elegant now. If the rubbing mania continues unchecked, however, parts of her will soon be glowing at night, like the headlights of a car.


I read that London’s No 11 bus route, under threat from a reorganisation of the transport network, has not been included on a shortlist for Unesco heritage status, despite a campaign by Tory MPs. The current route passes many great landmarks, something Unesco listing might have preserved. But under the city mayor’s plans, it will soon go no further than a well-known railway station: terminating, like the career of Napoleon, at Waterloo.

Which reminds me that on a recent visit to Blarney, I was intrigued to see that it too has a place named Waterloo, which includes a church and a 19th century tower. I didn’t have time to investigate (on indeed to visit the famous castle, where a ritual more extreme than mere statue rubbing has long been popular). But I looked it up afterwards on the placename database Logainm, and in various archives, none of which explain how this “Waterloo” arose. Perhaps some local historian can enlighten us.

Best Bertie foot forward

Getting back to the peace process, it had somehow escaped me until this week that there is a brand of footwear in Britain, for both men and women, called “Bertie”.

Sold in Selfridge’s, John Lewis, and House of Fraser, Bertie shoes are described as “edgy” and “urban”. But they can be sensible and comfortable too. Indeed, they seem to be very flexible in design, appealing to a wide range of tastes, including whatever you’re having yourself.

One model is called “Imagined”: that’s a sort of flip-flop. But there’s also a Bertie for more formal occasions, the “Southside”. And as if to span the difference, there is a Bertie training shoe, the “Transit”.

Those might come in handy if the former taoiseach decides to run for president. In the meantime, thanks to the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, he seems to be running already: doing interview after interview and baring his soles.