HE came, he saw, he wooed.
For once, the term whistlestop was entirely appropriate.
At the end of an extraordinary week, Barack Obama flew through a packed schedule that took him from the Phoenix Park down to Moneygall and back to Dublin’s city centre in a matter of hours.
The country may this morning wake up with dirty reality knocking at the door, but two visits in seven days have administered a shot in the arm to national confidence.
Barack and his wife, Michelle, arrived with the genuine star appeal that these days is often drowned in the debased currency of celebrity. Air Force One landed at 9.28am to a traditional Irish welcome: high winds and driving rain. The presidential couple stepped down from the plane, and, for a brief minute, the clock might well have been turned back 50 odd years. Here, once again, was the spectre of a glamorous American first couple landing in the oul’ sod, bringing cheer and hope to an economic backwater.
They had barely touched the ground when they took to the air again, bound for the Áras.
Mary McAleese has been earning her considerable crust this last week, what with state visits and funerals, but she didn’t look any the worst for wear when she ushered the Obamas into the big house.
From there it was onto Farmleigh to discuss world issues with Enda Kenny. Before entering, the prez was presented with a hurley, although his attempt to hold it must go down as a crime against the game, so awkward was he.
At a relaxed press conference afterwards, Kenny looked like a man who was trying hard to stop himself from beating his chest like a delighted baboon. Obama emitted his customary cool.
Moneygall was the be all and the end all for the folks back home. Here was the American president, the Black American president, heading back to a village in Ireland from where his forebear left. It’s a rite of passage in the American dream, and it will put the one horse town centre- stage on the tourist trail.
The sky was black minutes before Obama came out of the clouds, but, miraculously, by the time he landed, the clouds had cleared. It was a feat he would repeat in Dublin some hours later.
He and Michelle met and greeted, kissed babies, grabbed hands and wooed the gathering. Later, there was the visit to the pub, a memory of Ireland past, rather than an example of living in the country today. In Ollie Hayes hostelry, he imbibed in the customary pint of plain. (The international drinks firm Diageo, which owns Guinness, has done really well out of the recent visits to this country). The prez liked what he supped. He looked like a man who had a taste of more in his mouth. If he wasn’t so tied up, who knows, the day could have been surrendered to the high stool and a feed of pints.
Back in Dublin, the crowds had begun gathering in the morning. By 5pm some estimates put the gathering at 100,000, flowing all the way up Dame Street and over into the Christchurch area.
Enda Kenny hadn’t put a foot wrong until yesterday. While warming up for the prez, he tried to do an Obama on it himself. The tone and even text of his speech borrowed from Obama’s previous work and he went on long after the prez had come out on stage. In a week when the choreography was otherwise perfect, it was a minor cock-up, but then, Enda was beside himself at that stage, lost in ecstasy.
Obama did what he does best. While his speech was technically below his high standards, he still managed to inspire and humour.
“My name is Barack Obama,” he began. “Of the Moneygall Obamas.”
After the introductory platitudes he moved onto the shared ties of his country and that of his forebear Falmouth Kearney. “Never has a nation so small inspired so much in another,” he said. And he knew how to feel his hosts’ pain. “Your best days are still ahead.”
Inevitably, he finished with the creed which informed his election campaign, and may well be adopted this side of the Atlantic. “Is Féidir linn. Yes we can.”
The crowd loved it, and he and his wife gave every impression that they were enjoying themselves in what was a rare break for downtime. In Moneygall and in College Green he worked the crowd with an enthusiasm that has been strangely absent since his election.
It’s as if the reception he received in this visit has worked to restore his confidence. If so, good luck to him. For his part, he sprinkled his magic on a nation which is finding it difficult to look to brighter days. Dirty reality is still out there, but Obama has at least reminded the country that misery is not obligatory.
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