The statue of former US president, Bill Clinton in the Co Kerry town of Ballybunion owes its origins to an off-the-cuff remark made to the then Tánaiste and Kerry TD, Dick Spring during a visit to the US in 1994.
State papers revealed the former Labour leader paid a visit to Mr Clinton’s holiday home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts during which the US president joked that the US would provide $300m (€265m) in aid to Northern Ireland if he could complete a round of golf in under 80 strokes.
Mr Clinton, who cites the famous Co Kerry links as one of his favourite golf courses, subsequently played a memorable and much-publicised round at Ballybunion during a visit to Ireland in 1998 in a group which included Mr Spring, the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, and golfer, Christy O’Connor Senior.
However, confidential documents released for the first time indicate the genesis of the game occurred four years earlier when Mr Spring travelled to Martha’s Vineyard for an informal chat with Mr Clinton in September 1994 just days after the IRA had announced its first ceasefire.
The conversation largely dwelt on how the US administration could help with the Northern Ireland peace process with Mr Clinton signalling that he would visit Ireland as part of such efforts.
The president noted that Irish-Americans had been “dancing in the streets” at the news of the IRA ceasefire and had been pushing for greater US involvement.
Mr Spring also raised the possibility of increased US aid and investment for Northern Ireland including the idea for an “International Fund for Ireland”.
In reply, Mr Clinton joked that his golf game might determine the size of the contribution by US taxpayers.
Mr Spring said the purpose of the meeting was not about how much money would be on offer, despite suggestions by journalists.
“I am not asking for two or three hundred million dollars,” said Mr Spring.
“If I break 80 in golf you can have it,” the US president replied jokingly.
At the suggestion by diplomat, Seán Ó hUigínn that the president should play a round of golf during a visit to Ireland, Mr Spring promised to send Mr Clinton a book on Irish golf courses.
The Tánaiste reminded the president that the well-known golfer, Tom Watson, regularly played the course in Ballybunion.
Mr Clinton acknowledged that the Co Kerry links was indeed “a famous course.” Although the US president did not find time to play golf in Ballybunion during his visit in 1995 as he had to cut his schedule short to depart Ireland earlier than planned, he fulfilled his promise three years later.
The life-size statue of Mr Clinton, which depicts him teeing off, was unveiled in his honour in Ballybunion in September 1998.
The statue also inspired a play based on the president’s visit to Ireland in 1998 calledwhich was written by Tom McEnerney, a former mayor of San Jose, California.