Speaking this morning in Belfast, President Obama took the opportunity to mix in a little golf talk as he addressed Northern Irish youth.
"Northern Ireland is hosting the World Police and Fire Games later this year -- (applause) -- which Dame Mary Peters is helping to organize. (Applause.)," Obama said, according to the official White House transcript.
"Golf fans like me had to wait a long six decades for the Irish Open to return to the North last year. (Applause.) I am unhappy that I will not get a few rounds in while I'm here. (Laughter.) I did meet Rory McIlroy last year -- (applause) -- and Rory offered to get my swing 'sorted,' -- (laughter) -- which was a polite way of saying, 'Mr. President, you need help.' (Laughter.)"
Obama used the golf point to transition into making a broader point about social and political change in Northern Ireland.
"None of that would have been imaginable a generation ago. And Belfast is a different city. Once-abandoned factories are rebuilt. Former industrial sites are reborn. Visitors come from all over to see an exhibit at the MAC, a play at the Lyric, a concert here at Waterfront Hall. Families crowd into pubs in the Cathedral Quarter to hear 'trad.' Students lounge at cafés, asking each other, 'What’s the craic?' (Laughter and applause.) So to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, it’s the manifestation of sheer, bloody genius. This island is now chic," Obama continued.
And these daily moments of life in a bustling city and a changing country, it may seem ordinary to many of you -- and that’s what makes it so extraordinary. That’s what your parents and grandparents dreamt for all of you -- to travel without the burden of checkpoints, or roadblocks, or seeing soldiers on patrol. To enjoy a sunny day free from the ever-present awareness that violence could blacken it at any moment. To befriend or fall in love with whomever you want. They hoped for a day when the world would think something different when they heard the word “Belfast.” Because of their effort, because of their courage that day has come. Because of their work, those dreams they had for you became the most incredible thing of all -- they became a reality.
It's been 15 years now since the Good Friday Agreement; since clenched fists gave way to outstretched hands. The people of this island voted in overwhelming numbers to see beyond the scars of violence and mistrust, and to choose to wage peace. Over the years, other breakthroughs and agreements have followed. That’s extraordinary, because for years, few conflicts in the world seemed more intractable than the one here in Northern Ireland. And when peace was achieved here, it gave the entire world hope.