WASHINGTON, DC—Secretary of State Madeleine Albright returned to the U.S. Monday following a four-day diplomatic visit to Ireland she categorized as "fucking incredible."
"I had the most amazing time in Ireland," said Albright, who was there to meet with Prime Minister Bertie Ahern regarding a possible amendment to 1998's Good Friday Accord that would give the Republic a greater voice in Northern Irish affairs. "Everywhere you go, there are these terrific little local pubs and quaint cottages and really old, narrow cobblestone streets. I swear, it feels like you're in a movie."
Albright described her talks with Ahern as "extremely productive" and her day trip to Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary as "so incredibly cool."
"There's this castle there that's like 800 years old, and it's actually got a moat surrounding it," Albright said. "You sure don't find stuff like that back in the U.S."
Albright and Ahern also discussed trade between the two nations. Though many U.S. economists regard the European Union as a potential threat to American prosperity, and concern has been voiced over restrictions Ireland has placed on certain imports, Albright stressed that the Republic continues to be an excellent target for U.S. investment and consumer dollars.
"I bought this gorgeous handmade Aran fisherman's sweater at Blarney Woolen Mills in Kilkenny for a fraction of what I would've paid back in the States," Albright said. "If you want to save some serious coin, people, shop for Irish stuff in Ireland."
Albright also spent half a day meeting with Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland. After laying a commemorative wreath in the town square of Omagh—site of the IRA bomb attack that killed 29 people last summer—the Secretary of State drove a rented Mini to the famed Giants' Causeway, a long shoreline of perfectly symmetrical, hexagonal volcanic rocks she said "weirded me out completely."
The visit to the Causeway was nearly ruined by an unexpected crisis, but Albright was able to broker an 11th-hour deal to save the situation. "I really wanted a picture of me at the Causeway, but stupid me left the camera at the hotel. Fortunately, this London Times guy happened to be there covering my visit. He promised he'd send me doubles of some of his shots if I mailed him a bunch of Butterfingers, which I guess you can't get in England. I was like, 'Definitely!'"
Before leaving the North, Albright met with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who invited her for a pint at a "too cool" little pub in Belfast. According to Albright, the pub was owned and run by a heavy-set, chain-smoking, 68-year-old woman named Molly who "didn't take crap from anybody. I loved her to death. The whole time, I was like, 'You go, girl!' I won't forget her any time soon, that's for sure."
Albright concluded her visit with an address before the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. In the speech, Albright pledged the U.S.'s full support in the ongoing Northern Irish peace process and expressed pride over "the deep and lasting friendship between our two nations." The speech concluded at 1 p.m., leaving the Secretary of State several hours to explore Dublin before having to catch a flight back to Washington.
"Dublin is so amazingly cool—me and [Irish president] Mary [McAleese] went shopping on Grafton Street, and we saw the Ha'penny Bridge and the mummified bog guy at the National Museum, which was seriously freaky," Albright said. "Then, at like 4 o'clock, we started getting hungry and we were kind of tired from all the walking, so we stopped at this café near Trinity College, where we met these two guys from Australia, John and Tony, who go to the University of Melbourne. They were really cool, especially Tony. Hopefully, if there's ever a diplomatic crisis in Australia, I'll get a chance to visit them."
Albright said she will return to Ireland in January 2000, when she is slated to be a featured guest at a symposium on Ireland's place in the world stage during the next millennium. During the 2000 visit, she said she hopes to continue to foster peaceful relations between Catholics and Protestants in the North, as well as take a side excursion to Amsterdam with her Eurail pass.
"Though great progress has been made by your people, there is still much work to be done," Albright told members of parliament. "Terrorism continues to rear its ugly head. Unemployment is rampant. And the monastery at Carrickmacross is nearly impossible to get to unless you rent a car in Mullagh, which is, like, 20 miles away."
"But despite these considerable challenges," Albright continued, "I wish to stress that I had a completely amazing time here and cannot wait to come back. And, hey, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, don't think I'm going to forget your promise to show me a wild time in Ballygowan, you crazy bastard!"