His speech, delivered in English and then in Gaelic, seemed not simply scripted but theatrically staged. Yet it lacked passion, confidence and a sense of urgency. His words fell flat. Cowen did not speak as a leader but as a functionary, mouthing slogans written by someone else. A sense that this was a serious vote that really mattered — socially and culturally — was all but absent.
The tone in the parks and pubs of Dublin was that of disappointment. Dubliners are always up for spontaneous outbursts of exhilaration — think of James Joyce's "epiphanies". But this time they didn't mince their words. More often than not, the reaction I heard was: "Disaster, a real disaster." One man was even ready to admit — through clenched teeth — that he wished "the Brits would take us over again".
The atmosphere was clear on the rainy evening after the vote: it felt as if something that had already been agreed upon was being confirmed. And even those relieved by the positive outcome sounded muted: "Now that's done," said a French journalist, and then sipped the last of his Guinness.
So what did happen here? Was this "Yes" the result of a pan-European conspiracy taking advantage of a country's temporary weakness? "But the Irish have fought so hard for their sovereignty, isn't it sad that they are now giving it all up?" said an English friend.
There is something to this British quirk of suffering Europaranoia — an almost anarchic instinct that causes them to refuse to put up with bureaucracy. This is precisely what is needed now. For what I saw in Ireland was indeed a sad moment: a vote under duress that allowed the inevitable onward march of a large machine.
Before leaving Dublin for London, I walked through the quiet streets on a chilly Sunday morning, until I found myself at the statue of the Anglo-Irish philosopher-statesman Edmund Burke. "There is something in the detested French constitution that envenoms every thing it touches," Burke said about the French Revolution. I wondered: Isn't this also true for the Lisbon Treaty? As it now stands: perhaps — but the culprit for the present disillusionment is the bureaucratic shape of the treaty, not the noble idea of Europe.