Like pilgrims they came, 13 U.S. politicians (10 of them governors), to Ireland, where blarney began. For some, like New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, the four-day visit was a return to the land of their forebears. For others, like Connecticut’s chief executive Ella Tambussi Grasso, it was an opportunity to kick up their heels. And for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, some rash derring-do gave him an unscheduled look at an Irish hospital.
Officially the junket was billed as an Irish tribute to the Bicentennial. The governors of the 13 original states were invited, but South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware sent high state officials instead. The Irish government, which footed the estimated $90,000 bill for the party of 70, including wives, children and aides, had more than American flag-waving in mind. Wining and dining the visitors, and steering them through a whirl of factories, briefings, castles and receptions, Irish officials hoped to lull fears of terrorist violence and to attract U.S. tourists and trade. Though the Americans came accompanied by three pistol-packing guards—”I was told to come armed to the teeth, that the country was full of gunmen,” confided one security man—the mood was convivial.
Following a black-tie dinner with Irish Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave and a reception by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the dignitaries even turned frisky. First Governors Byrne and Grasso hopped through an extemporaneous step dance outside the Lord Mayor’s mansion. A few hours later, at a buffet dinner given by U.S. Ambassador Walter Curley, New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr. challenged Byrne to a race on the lawn. The first heat was inconclusive, and a second brought forth two additional challengers, Dukakis and Lt. Gov. W. Brantley Harvey of South Carolina. Jacketless, the four crouched at the starting line, then bolted when Grasso shouted “Go!” A onetime distance runner, sprinting on wet, alien turf, Dukakis fell 30 feet from the start, cracking the gubernatorial collarbone. Mindful, however, of his sizable Massachusetts Irish constituency, the governor was back in action the following day—with a glowing tribute to Ireland’s doctors and nurses.