You’ve been posted to the United States during what’s been a tumultuous time. How would you sum up your experience so far?
Well, I came here in August 2017, and the job of a diplomat is to play the field as you find it, not to try and create your own field that suits your needs. So I’ve connected with America in as many ways as I possibly could. With the administration, of course, with Congress. And then, of course, I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the United States and connect with companies and with Irish communities all over this country who are a big resource to us.
The Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole recently wrote that under President Trump America “has never in its history seemed so pitiful.” What do you make of that assessment?
Well, look, I mean the one thing a foreign diplomat should never do is get involved in commenting on the domestic politics of the host country. My job is to represent Ireland here in this country and to speak for Ireland, too. And then it’s also part of my job to analyze the United States for Ireland. People, of course, can read what’s happening here in the newspapers. The embassy’s job is to kind of connect with America in many ways and to assess what’s happening here and to keep our people in Dublin informed. So I’ve got a great interest, obviously, in what happens in the United States. A lot of Irish people feel a kinship with the United States.
I don’t make any public value judgments about America. That would be, you know, very unwise, and not be in keeping with an ambassador or his job. But I do try to speak to people on all sides of the arguments here to get as rounded a view as I could possibly get, you know, in order to explain to people in Ireland what’s happened here and how things play out.
So you’re not going to tell me what you’ve said in your secret cables back to Dublin?
No. Sadly, you’ll have to wait maybe 20 years time to read my scintillating cables back to Dublin. Until then, I’m afraid I’ll have to keep you in the dark.
In addition to all of your other duties, one of your missions has been using Twitter to bring Irish poetry to America.
Yeah, well, I’ve never written a line of poetry. I have to first confess that. I’m not a poet at all, but I’ve always had an appreciation for words on the page and for the skill that poets can bring to bear. Also, over the years traveling around the world, I’ve come to understand that we have a strong literature tradition that people around the world tend to be interested in.
You post a poem every day on Twitter. How did that start?
I started in 2015, which was the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats, and he’s always been a favorite of mine. And so I came to this idea that I would tweet a quote from Yeats every day of the year, which I did. I was going to stop, but people would tweet me back and say, “It’s my favorite thing on Twitter.” So I just started tweeting other Irish poets, from 9th-century poems written in Irish by Irish monks to the very cutting-edge Irish writers of today. And all sorts of people do take inspiration and comfort from some of the lines that I’ve been able to tweet.
Are there tweets that have been really popular?
On [May 30] I tweeted from Yeats’s “Second Coming.” You know: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” I kind of knew it would have some relevance, but I didn’t really think that people would pick it up and see it as somehow relevant to the events of [that] week in America. But many people did, and it’s been seen about 30,000 times, which is a lot for a tweet for someone like me who doesn’t have a kind of celebrity standing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.