"THIS is like an Irish wake" said Stella O'Leary, head of Irish American Democrats. We were at the first meeting between Senator Barack Obama and key supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton in Washington last week.

The atmosphere was somber to say the least. How time passes. One year ago in the ballroom of the plush Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Camp Hillary held a pep rally for key finance committee members. Every big hitter from coast to coast flew in.

Back then she was up 30 points in the polls. She was a certain winner, not just of the nomination, but the White House too. Oh yes, Obama had entered the race, but the polls showed him impossibly behind.

Flash forward to last Thursday night, the same hotel, same ballroom and another Hillary event. Far fewer big hitters, but lots of sad faces expressing amazement that it all went wrong.

This was Hillary's wake, 200 of her top financial people coming together for the last time. But it was a wake with a purpose, to pass the torch on to Obama.

He is now the candidate, and she must be seen to support him. Her supporters must be seen to row in behind him. He must be seen to reach out to those supporters. The process began in earnest on Thursday night.

How power passes is a study in cruelty. Obama entered the room flanked by a dozen or so Secret Service and private security. Clinton entered alone.

In that stark image is contained the essence of the situation. No one ever outshone Clinton in recent times, with the exception perhaps of her husband. Now there is a brighter star.

It was not an easy encounter for Obama with her inner circle. The people in the room had helped raise over $200 million to beat him. Now he was asking for their help.

He did his best, but the hurt clearly remains on both sides of a bloody primary fight. The body language between Obama and Clinton is not good.

She has that fixed stare into the distance when he is speaking, like the girl with faraway eyes. He crosses his arms when she is speaking and pecks her on the cheek when she finishes, like he's kissing the ugly girl on prom night.

Yet they are a joy to behold, a black man and a white woman who have broken more barriers in one year than countless generations of politicians before them.

Obama tries to soothe the jangled nerves. He tells how his grandmother in Hawaii told him recently that what Clinton faced was what she encountered decades ago when she was making a career in banking. He says his 10-year-old daughter told him it was great that a woman could now become president, and it was because of Clinton.

She is four minutes into her remarks before she mentions Obama. It's a boiler plate call to arms for Democrats to toss out the hated Republicans.

Then come the questions. Will Obama pick her as vice president? He's non-committal. Will he help pay down her campaign debt? Yes he will, in fact he's just written a personal check to her for $2,300.

Will he allow her name into nomination at Denver during the convention? He's discussing that with her right now.

One questioner says he is going though the five stages of grief, and that Obama has helped heal him further by his kind comments.

There is a sense however, that Obama is doing just the bare minimum. Twice he mentions he has to be back to the Senate floor for a vote.

Then he leaves, the interloper who crashed the party. It's not easy to walk into the lion's den like he just did. There is no doubt that he would like to disentangle himself from the Clintons as soon as it is politically possible.

That may be soon. Obama is up 14 points in two recent polls. Clinton's chances of being vice president and staying relevant in the race depend on a close race where she could make the difference.

Meanwhile, Bill is off stage somewhere, raging like King Lear about his diminished powers. As soon as possible Obama will want to steer clear.

On the way out I grab a word. Will he come to Ireland? His face lights up.

"I would love to", he says. "My great great grandfather came from there. It's an amazing story."

Can Offaly, home county of current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, handle two world leaders?