An American buddy took me on a walk over the Giant's Ring in South Belfast last week and we got to talking about this US Envoy business. What, my fellow-flâneur wondered, would an Envoy possibly do?
"Other than build the peace, forge cultural links, nourish economic partnerships and encourage academic alliances," I asked.
"Yes, other than those worthy activities, what would the envoy do?" asked my pal from the former colonies.
That, to me, sounded like a challenge. So I came up with this to-do list – a top ten – for a Presidential plenipotentiary.
Consider the list below an induction, a pep talk, a crash-course and a Peace Process 101. A gift even, from Belfast to our American visitor, proffered in the knowledge that without Irish America we wouldn't have peace at all. A word to the wise: only when our wet-behind-the-ears envoy has been fortified by fulfilling all the engagements below, should he or she take on the headache on the hill.
1. Climb Cavehill, look down and savour what the late Rev Margaret Ferguson called "a spirit of peace over Belfast".
2. Join Jamal Iweida and the Muslim community of Dunmurry for Iftar — the meal which ends the daily Ramadan fast — at their recently-opened mosque in a former Presbyterian church.
3. Visit the H-Block hospital wing where ten hunger strikers died 40 years ago this summer.
4. Sit silently below the Harry Clarke rose window at St Dominic's Church in West Belfast and ponder the fact that though Ireland is a small place, it sits atop a continent of culture.
5. Ask the Rev Steve Stockman to let you share a pew at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church with victims of the IRA's campaign.
6. Walk to the Bog Meadow in West Belfast to welcome the willow warbler as it touches down (just about now, in fact) after a 5,000 mile flight from Sierra Leone.
7. Get up early. Very early. And sit Zazen with Buddhist priest Myogan Djinn Gallagher at the Black Mountain Zen Centre in Donegall Street.
8. Call along to the maternity hospital at the RVH. Try not to get in the way. Admire the brilliance of the midwives, the bravery of the mothers, the beauty of the babies. Try and guess their religion. (Only joking about the last bit.)
9. Watch the Rathcoole Protestant Boys 'Blood and Thunder' Flute Band practice — 'tis the season for it — and imagine the potential of turning the pageantry, pomp and musical prowess of Orange marching bands into a cultural powerhouse.
10. Attend the annual awards night at 700-pupil Coláiste Feirste and, surrounded by proud-as-Punch parents, marvel at the miracle which is the survival of the Irish language for over 2,000 years.