Thank Guinness for International Diplomacy

Barack Obama seemed happy with the pint of Guinness he received when he visited an ancestral Irish hometown this week.

Days earlier, the Queen had enjoyed watching the pouring of a Guinness during her truly historic visit to Ireland. In Germany she might have observed the wheels being put on a shiny new Volkswagen, but an international statesperson cannot tour the Republic without paying homage to the pint-sized wonder.

There is a body of thought that this quintessentially Irish brew is in truth a Welsh invention. The story goes that Arthur Price, who left Cardiganshire in the 18th century for Ireland and became Archbishop of Cashel, served up the black stuff at his palace.

His steward, Richard Guinness, was well-known for brewing a “very palatable” drink and he enjoyed such a fine relationship with his employer that he named his son Arthur in his honour.

The Archbishop became Arthur Guinness’s godfather and left the young man £100 which he used to open his first brewery in 1756.

While it may be stretching this tale too far to say that the tipple of monarchs and presidents is actually the ancient Welsh “porter”, as a tale of hospitality and friendship it is as warming as a pub fire.

David Cameron is a regular Guinness drinker and he may have discussed the art of pulling a perfect pint with the visiting president. He has certainly worked hard at pulling Mr Obama close.

They now say they have an “essential relationship” founded on a “natural partnership.”

This fermenting of their friendship accelerated last year when the two men swapped beers. Mr Obama gave the PM a bottle of Goose Island 312 – an icon of his home city of Chicago. The president received a bottle of Hobgoblin, brewed in Mr Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency.

Tony Blair brought George Bush back to a favourite Sedgefield pub and Boris Yeltsin was enthralled by the one he visited with John Major.

Mortals may wonder how real camaraderie can survive such flashbulb-filled encounters but investing intergovernmental time in having a good time is rarely wasteful. Just as manuals urge harassed parents of young children to ensure they have a “date night” weekly when they can enjoy each other’s company, so world leaders stand a better chance of devising solutions to climate change, global debt and nuclear proliferation in the airless confines of a summit if they can drawer on reserves of rapport and trust forged through evenings of yarn-spinning.

For the good of Europe and America, let’s hope the occupants of Downing St and the White House found time to unwind over an ale fit for an archbishop.

A Thursday column

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