Waving US flags they shouted “Obama, Obama”, as the most powerful man in the world temporarily banished Ireland’s economic worries as he took to the stage in central Dublin.
In a speech peppered by spontaneous applause and cheers, his eloquence gripped the weary but excited onlookers who queued for hours to hear him speak outside the historic Bank of Ireland building in College Green.
Emma Douglas, a primary teacher from north Dublin, rubbed red eyes as the President drew massive cheers and applause from 25,000 people for his closing quip – “Is féidir linn” (“Yes we can”).
“It was unbelievable, absolutely. I just think it’s so amazing that he speaks from the heart without any notes.
“I’ve never seen this before in my lifetime and I don’t think I ever will again.”
They hung out of windows, stood on crash barriers and gazed in adoration as he delivered a 24-minute speech that touched on the “bonds of affection” between Ireland and the US, his own ancestral links to the island, the peace process, and, perhaps most importantly for those present, his belief that Ireland could recover.
“I’m just an unbelievable fan, even more so now,” said Ms Douglas.
Crowds weaved the length of Dame Street stretching from Christ Church Cathedral to the Bank of Ireland, where former President Bill Clinton wooed crowds 16 years ago.
US flags hung from windows and fluttered alongside the tricolour on the Bank of Ireland building.
Those too far from the stage gazed at big screens, many applauding and shaking their heads with smiles on their faces as he spoke.
Some dabbed away tears, the emotion of the historic evening too much for them.
Irene Kenealy stood behind crash barriers watching the big screen beam the speech across sun-kissed, blustery streets.
Draped in the US flag and wearing a home-made Statue of Liberty hat, she spoke of how emotional she felt at the visit.
“It’s just so exciting. When I saw him in Moneygall drink the pint, I just got emotional, I started crying.”
Mr Obama stepped from the stage flanked by US Secret Service agents and plunged into the crowds to shake hands and greet people who queued from the early hours.
He didn’t disappoint, even taking a mobile phone from one woman, Jessica Walls, to chat to her mother, Glynis Walls, much to her delight.
Gates for the evening event opened at 2pm, but crowds gathered from early morning waiting to be screened by dark-suited Secret Service agents.
“You are supposed to be single file, I cannot do 30 in a row,” one weary officer said.
A mixture of half-eaten chocolate biscuits, bottles of water and somebody’s lunch wrapped in tin foil were among items abandoned before screening.
Danielle Mooney, 30, an accountant, travelled from Waterford to see Mr Obama. “It isn’t every day you get to see the leader of the most powerful country in the world,” she said. “It will be something to tell the grandchildren.”
Gardaí used a loudspeaker to tell people not to push as there was still room for the event, to cheers from good-humoured but tired revellers.
“But that may change,” the officer said to sudden jeers.
“We don’t want change,” quipped a passer-by, twisting Mr Obama’s famous phrase.
Obama lookalike Aaron Heffernan, 21, from Dublin, dressed in a long black coat, dark suit and red tie and stood at the head ofthe queue with his two “bodyguards”, friends from Trinity College.
“We’ve been here since 10, it’s just very exciting. Hoping to give him a wave.”
Peter Reynolds, 28, a former politics student at Trinity College, said he was there to witness a piece of history. “I don’t know about all this ancestral history stuff but this is certainly historic,” he said.
“I think during the election everybody felt a bit of his stardust, if you like. It is just special to be within staring distance of him.”
The public event included performances from Jedward, Westlife, Imelda May, Coronas and Sharon Shannon.
Actor Brendan Gleeson spoke of Ireland’s past and its present economic difficulties. “I am fed up looking at the ground, it is time to stand up,” he said to wild applause from the mainly teenage and 20-something crowd.
Seana Boyle, a 31-year-old bank worker, said: “This has been all about us feeling good about ourselves again. Recession? What recession.
“With Obama and a fair wind ... yes we can.”