U.S. AMBASSADOR to Ireland William V. Shannon earned his pay last week. If he had been given the choice, almost surely he would have passed up the opportunity to display publicly his diplomatic skill under pressure. That pressure came courtesy of a major blunder by one of his co-workers, Robin Berrington, who doubles as the embassy's cultural affairs official and press officer.

Mr. Berrington's consisted of releasing to the press a private letter he had written that included many unflattering comments about Ireland. Some samples: the Irish are "a people with too much human nature -- violent and compassionate -- for their own good; Ireland has "food and climate well suited for each other: dull." For at least some of the Irish citizenry, probably the only saving grace could be found in Mr. Berrington's harsh words about some of their old adversaries -- "the Anglo Irish set who speak as though they had marbles in their mouths" -- and in his contrasting the Irish as "warm lively human beings" with the "insufferable English."

But even the pokes at the ancient adversaries did not cool off Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey, who was reported to be both "disappointed and concerned." Both the Irish Tourism Council and the Irish Hotels Federation weighed in with their own understandable criticisms.

What could and should an ambassador do in such circumstances? Call for an investigation of the leak? Bounce the offending party out on his ear? Rush to the prime minister with a formal apology?

We applaud what Ambassador Shannon did. Here is his entire statement on the episode: "The Irish are famous for their sense of humor, and I think I shall have to rely on it in this instance." No overreacting. Just a little Irish American charm to soothe a troubled situation. A little diplomacy from a non-career diplomat.