Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate. If you can’t be bothered to go out and see a parade or get blackout drunk in the streets of a major American city, perhaps I can interest you in a tale of an Irish lad saying one of the most batshit things I’ve ever heard in my life.
The year was 2013, or maybe 2014. I was a freshman or sophomore at NYU — the details are fuzzy because this was a period of my life when my weekly Sunday treat was smoking a joint alone in the West Village and then walking to an Au Bon Pain on 8th St. for dinner.
In order to finance this lifestyle, I would occasionally make some money by working the door at fancy events. A friend of a friend’s mother was a PR maven/socialite, and when she wanted to underpay someone to make sure no one crashed a party she was running, she’d call up me and my friends.
On one such occasion, we were tasked with working the door at a party for the Clinton Global Initiative. Our job was to stand outside of a building in Harlem and ask guests for their name to make sure they were on the list. The theme of the night was, broadly, Africa, so obviously there was only one person qualified to give the keynote speech: Bono. (We were given specific instructions to not ask Bono for his name if he came through, but my friends and I did decide that if he walked by one of us would have to say “Uno, dos, tres, catorce” under our breath. Sadly, he used a side entrance.)
One of the biggest perks of this job was that, at a certain point, we were usually invited into the party, where there was almost always an open bar where no one asked for ID. So there we were, sipping gin and tonics when Bono took the stage. I remember almost nothing of what he said, except for one line that has been stuck in my head for the better part of a decade. At one point in his speech, the U2 frontman looked at a room full of African dignitaries and said, with all seriousness, “Ireland is the Africa of Europe.”
Now, on an analogy level, this barely makes any sense. It’s like saying Madison is the California of Wisconsin. On a geopolitical level, it is legitimately offensive. Of course Ireland has gone through hell under the tyranny of the English, but compared to the entire continent of Africa? An entire continent that was colonized within an inch of its life? Calm down, Mr. Hewson.
No one else in the room seemed to think that this was a crazy thing to say. Or if they did, they weren’t telling a teenager in an ill-fitting H&M dress about it. Bono continued on with his speech, and I hunted down my boss for my $100 in cash.
Sometimes I think this was a fever dream. There are no Getty Image results for this particular event, or at least how it appears in my memory. There are however images of Bono at the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting in 2013, which was held around the same time I remember this happening. The only reason I really know I didn’t make this whole thing up is that I am not funny enough to make up a line that good.
“Ireland is the Africa of Europe.” It’s something that can only be spoken by a truly delusional man, one who can see two places of conflict and, without a second thought, determine that they are the same. This is stage four philanthropist brain disease, and I hope Bono never gets well.