By four o'clock on Monday Dublin’s College Green looked like a pilgrimage at Mecca.
As far as the eyes could see tens of thousands of Irish had gathered in every available place, waiting for their own particular hero to appear.
It was a far younger crowd than the one that gathered for President Clinton fifteen years before. During his election campaign Obama was a magnet for younger voters, fed up with the old ways. Clearly that appeal still registers in Ireland.
Sure there were warm up acts, the biggest cheer surprisingly for rugby star Brian O’Driscoll, a local hero who had some of the American media confused. ‘Who he’ asked one.
But every so often the chant of ‘Obama Obama’ rippled across the vast crowd like a mighty wave , leaving no doubt whatever who the vast throng was there to see.
At around 5 the Irish leader Enda Kenny took the stage. He has been having the kind of first few week in office his handlers could only have dreamed off.
On his first week he was in the White House on St.Patrick’s Day impressing everyone with his gravitas and sincerity, now he has welcomed back to back visits by Queen Elizabeth and President Obama.
Little wonder there was a spring in his step and gusto in his voice as he welcomed the American president.
Obama himself came on stage to a rock star reception. His speech was a soaring and eloquent paean to the many millions of Irish who had left Ireland to create a new life in America. By the time he had finished the crowd was ecstatic.
What he did next was even more interesting. He plunged into the crowd, shaking hand after hand, even taking a phone call to a very surprised mother who must have almost lost her life when she found herself talking to President Obama.
This was an energized and pumped up Barack Obama, clearly a man in campaign mode, ready to start the re-election process with a rally in Ireland that will surely figure in television ads come the Fall of 2012.
The day had not started out so well. I awoke in my Dublin hotel room to the sound of rain lashing the windows and a howling wind that threatened at one point to ground the president’s helicopter from taking him to Moneygall.
It looked for a few brief hours that the weather would play spoilsport but miraculously, soon after Air Force One arrived, the sun came peeking through through and occasional showers continued for much of the day.
Obama visited the President Mary McAleese and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and the highlight was seeing Obama brandish the hurling stick that Kenny gave him.
I watched the Moneygall visit in the press room at Dublin Castle, near where the Dublin rally was to take place.
The famously on time president, lost all track of his schedule as he shook hand after hand and lingered with the locals who clearly had found a way to his heart.
I was glad to see his closest Irish cousin Henry Healy be among the first to greet the president.I had spent the day in Moneygall on Thursday and had been so impressed about how the little village was handling its brush with fame.
Against all the dds they had invited and had accepted an invitation from the most powerful man in the world to come and visit them.
On the day the images from Ireland were the ones of the president in Ollie Hayes bar drinking well over half of a pint of Guinness.Given that the drink is black and white it served as perfect symbol of Obama’s own mixed heritage.
Then it was on to Dublin and the climactic rally that was such a success.
By the time he headed for London Barack Obama had charmed a nation and been charmed in return. Ireland needed the boost in the midst of harsh economic times and Barack Obama had done himself no harm politically for 2012 either.
All in all a great day.
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