“I thought this was a secret,” joked the U2 frontman arriving with wife Ali at Finnegan’s in Dalkey where he had invited “Michelle and the girls”, as they are known in Chez Hewson, to a casual pub lunch only to find the winding paths of the toytown village awash with celebrity-watchers.
The worst-kept secret in diplomatic and dining history cause huge excitement on the petite streets where American flags had unfurled overnight and early morning walkers were greeted by pleased looking sniffer dogs enjoying a break from airport duty.
Among the early arrivals to the neatly erected Garda cordon was local woman, Michelle Cullen, who was between school runs and hoping she’d catch a glimpse of her namesake before the home bell rang.
One of nine siblings, Dalkey Michelle’s youngest brother will be the first of the family to emigrate when he leaves for Australia in three week’s time and she was heartened by what Washington Michelle had to say in Dublin the previous day.
“It’s breaking our hearts to think of saying goodbye but Michelle Obama talked about how she was just an ordinary person who worked hard and had big dreams and that’s encouraging for people who think maybe there’s nothing for them — it encourages them to hold on to their dreams.”
Geraldine McLoughlin, who’d turned up coincidentally dressed in red, white and blue, couldn’t agree more.
“My 15-year-old granddaughter would absolutely take that on board. Michelle Obama knows how to talk to young people.”
Ah yes, but there’s young people and then there’s teenage daughters and when the official convoy eventually arrived shortly after 1pm, Malia and Sasha stepped from their car with heavy feet and tired expressions.
“Jet lag,” one sympathetic onlooker mused.
“Midges,” offered another, explaining the curse of the flying demons of Glendalough where the sisters had travelled from.
Mom, who arrived in a separate car, might have been suffering similarly as she was whisked into the pub without a glance towards the waiting crowd.
But then the miracle of fish and chips kicked in. The Obamas, who could probably demand Panda burgers if they so wished, delighted in ordering every Irish person’s favourite seaside supper rounded off with tea and biscuits and, by all accounts, they delighted in eating it too.
The signs were on it as they emerged 90 minutes later, with considerably more spring in their step. Michelle smiled and waved — a brief but important gesture.
For the Finnegan brothers, Donal, Paul, Alan, and Neil, it was a brief but important visit that helps cement the pub as the go-to place for movie-makers, rock stars, and now first ladies whenever they’re in town.
Brad Pitt, Mel Gibson, Penélope Cruz, Pierce Brosnan, and Neil Jordan are among the notables who’ve dined and drank there although the pub doesn’t shout about it.
“They like it because we leave them be. We don’t have photos of them all over our walls telling everyone they’ve been here,” explained Neil. “They’re treated well but normally so they can have their privacy like anyone else.”
To prove a point, the Obamas dined among around 60 guests made up mainly of the Finnegans’ neighbours who live beside their Sorrento Rd premises.
For the rest of the ordinary folk left outside, there was some disappointment that the behind-schedule Obamas couldn’t do a walkabout or linger to smile into the hundreds of waiting cameraphones.
But Mary Doyle, who waited several hours in the sweltering sun to view the top of Michelle’s head, didn’t mind a bit.
“We’d kill her with affection — that’s why they’re keeping her from us,” she laughed.
“And it could be worse. We could be home hoovering.”