The bone chilling cold did nothing to dampen the spirits of the millions who attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday. All morning the winter sun shone brightly on the multitudes assembling on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to witness history in the making. Street hawkers did a roaring trade in "Yes We Can" hats, t-shirts and posters (named after Obama's signature election phrase). All morning their makeshift stands kept popping up on every street corner along the wide route to the National Mall. At the head of the Capitol Building two massive jumbotron screens kept the crowds up to date with all the arriving dignitaries. Loud cheers went up when Bill and Hillary Clinton's faces flashed on screen. Moments later they were taking their seats on the viewing stand next to Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, and George and Barbara Bush. Derry man Michael Sheils, who traveled to Washington with his wife Sinead to witness the historic inauguration told the Irish Voice, "If a Kenyan goat herder's son can become president, sure there's hope for us all, isn't there? That's the powerful message he's sending. "It certainly helps that he has the intelligence to back it up. But people love him because he's not an aristocrat, he's just a mucker like the rest of us. You really can be the son of a Kenyan goat herder and go on become president. Finally that's a true statement." Despite the war in Iraq, the ongoing financial crisis and all the pressing problems now facing the nation, the crowd that turned out for Obama on Tuesday was in a party mood. Even in the Senate press box the most hard-bitten journalists were being carried away by the symbolism of it all, clapping and cheering in the most partisan fashion imaginable. The sense that we're in new territory now was inescapable. When he walks into the White House Oval Office on Wednesday morning Obama will be America's first black president, and the marble steps leading him up to the building and even the White House itself were built by slaves. Obama knows this and is keenly aware of the hand of history on his shoulders, but at all times he retains the cool demeanor he's become famous for. On the ground the day itself was at times a fairly chaotic affair. Vast crowds filled the subways and main streets, jostling good humouredly for the best vantage points to view the historic ceremony, but the event at times threatened to tip over into chaos. Police officers barked orders at the largely uncooperative crowds as sniffer dogs weaved their way between cars and the thronging public. Occasionally all the last minute seating arrangements made for strange bedfellows, too. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg briefly shared a viewing area with rocker Bruce Springsteen, but both men tried to avoid the cameras flashing all around them. As he takes office a record 79 percent of Americans are optimistic about the next four years of Obama's administration, a remarkable figure. Bloomberg, a noted admirer of Obama's political acumen told the Irish Voice, "I look forward to working with him. He's certainly a gifted leader and today we're here to celebrate his achievements - and we're right to - but soon he will govern and we'll really see the tests that lie ahead of him. Those are where the real challenges lie." When he finally took the podium to make his speech an impassioned Obama told the crowd it was time to begin the work of remaking America. "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions, that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," he said. The day wasn't without its problems, unfortunately. Senator Edward Kennedy, an early and crucial Obama supporter, had a seizure at the Senate luncheon honoring the new president and had to be taken by ambulance to Washington Hospital. Kennedy, diagnosed with brain cancer last year, seems to be on the mend, though. "After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue," Edward Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at Washington Hospital Center, said in a statement. "Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with his family and friends and feeling well."
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