Going on vacation? Looking for an escape from President Donald J. Trump and his infamous Twitter account?
Well, it seems that Ireland is not the best place to be this summer if you want to have a complete break from the 45th President of the United States and the controversy which seems to surround him on a daily basis.
Tourism is booming in Ireland in 2017, and North American visitors and expats alike are finding that everyone wants to talk about Trump.
Whether it’s the barman in the Dublin pub who wants to discuss his latest tweet, the B&B hostess in Connemara concerned about his sexism, or the bus driver worried about the ‘undocumented’ Irish in the US, it seems that everyone has an opinion.
From speaking to both visitors and locals, Irish people seem to be genuinely shocked that visitors from the US are so apologetic about the behavior of their controversial President.
US visitors and expats, meanwhile, are overwhelmed by the level of interest in Trump they are encountering among Irish people. People are not shy to tell them they are taken aback by his views on immigrants, women, climate change, Mexicans, or Muslims.
Boston attorney and NUI Galway law lecturer Larry Donnelly could not believe how muted the 4th of July celebrations were in Ireland this year. Larry came to Ireland on a fellowship almost 16 years ago, fell in love with an Irishwoman, and never went home.
He has sensed that many Americans living in Ireland did not want to celebrate Independence Day, because of concerns about the current state of their homeland.
“The first thing to say is it’s extraordinary how much people here in Ireland are interested in US politics, more so than politics in the UK,” he tells IrishCentral.
“I am not surprised by the reaction to President Trump here. People seem to be amazed that he has been as much of a buffoon in office as he was on the campaign trail. He regularly makes the Irish news and people here follow what he’s saying on social media.”
Even though he left the US in 2001, Donnelly says Trump really tapped into a sense of disillusion with the political establishment across America. At least half of his own friends back in Boston voted for Trump.
“It’s something that has been under-reported in Ireland, that there are huge parts of America that have been left behind,” he tells IrishCentral.
“He never would have been elected unless the country was in a really bad state. I tell people here in Ireland that people would not have voted for him unless they were deeply frustrated.”
Donnelly says the occasional comment that “Americans are so stupid” among a minority of Irish people does bother him, but people need to realize there is deep frustration with the political system all across the globe.
“The conditions that fueled Trump’s victory have been there for years and I tell people that his election was a ‘wake up’ call for America,” he says.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Washington DC native Denise O’Regan, who has been living in Ireland for five years, prefers not to give her maiden name for fear of a backlash from the authorities back home.
O'Regan married an Irishman last year and her honeymoon coincided with President Trump’s inauguration ceremony. She attended the protests in DC in January and admits to having become much more politically active since the election.
O'Regan teaches English to a wide variety of nationalities in Galway and finds that she gets many questions about President Trump when she meets new students from countries such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, or Brazil.
The students are curious as soon as they discover she’s an American.
“It’s often the first question I get on a Monday morning, whereas I was hardly ever questioned about Obama,” she says.
“You get tired of having to answer the same questions over and over. It’s very difficult to say that you despise your own President. A lot of the Mexican students are disturbed by the kind of things he has been saying about their country, calling them rapists or thieves. It’s alarming to see the reaction among our closest allies.”
As for the Irish people she meets out socially with her Irish husband, only a small minority seem to have positive feelings towards Trump.
“I have heard a couple of people defend him to me, which I was surprised about, but I would say the overwhelming majority are negative towards Trump. Over 95% would be negative towards him,” she says.
“Most Irish people I know seem to be alarmed by his policies towards women, refugees, and Mexicans. Usually people ‘feel you out’ before they broach the subject in the pub. The thing that bothers me most is that I see Trump’s election setting us back at least 20 or 30 years.”
On a week-long tour of Ireland to promote her new novel, ‘Bohermore,’ Irish-American author Jennifer Rose McMahon has been amazed by the volume of questions she has had to field about President Trump.
She met her future husband in a Galway pub in the early 1990s and has made many trips to the Emerald Isle since then.
“I kind of knew people would be curious about Trump, but I didn’t think I’d get so many questions about him,” she says. “People in Ireland are watching the news and they want to know how Americans feel about him.
“I notice a high level of fear and discomfort among the Irish, which I never noticed when Obama was President of the United States. At this point, people are asking questions about safety, about changes in the world, about travel. The Irish seem to have huge concerns about acceptance of differences and diversity.”
At first, she felt she should “hide under a rock” when she had to face so many questions about Trump on the first night of her book tour. But she has enjoyed engaging with the Irish people.
“We have to embrace diversity and to realize we are the ones who built the country. My grandparents, who came over from Mayo, were part of that. Immigration is the backbone of the nation and we want to keep it that way,” she says.
“Trump’s tweets seem to get everybody all upset and excited. We just have to remember that he’s not a single entity. He has a full group around him helping with the decisions. I tell people here that he doesn’t represent the views of all Americans.”
Boston native Maria Louisa Gambale, enjoying her fourth visit to Ireland, is having a fantastic vacation with her husband and members of her extended family.
She finds that Irish people are keen to talk about Trump and that they presume she’s not a supporter simply because she’s traveling around on a budget holiday.
“Because we are staying in B&Bs, and going to places like the Aran Islands, people seem to think we are not the stereotypes of Trump supporters they have in their heads,” she says.
“Broadly speaking, they are sympathetic. They link Trump’s election with the Brexit vote in the UK and seem to think America is in a bad place right now. People’s lives are being affected by Trump back in the US, but what’s coming across to people in Ireland is what a crazy buffoon he is. It’s a little therapeutic to talk to them about Trump.”
Maria Louisa does not feel ashamed or embarrassed, although some Irish people have expressed fears to her that such a “crazy person” has his finger on the nuclear button.
Former New York City resident Brian Nolan, now back in his native Galway, meets about 200 visitors a week from the US as he conducts hugely popular daily walking tours of the City of the Tribes.
“Quite a lot of my customers would be Irish-Americans,” says Brian, who lived in NYC for 17 years. “What amazes me is how many of them feel a need to apologize to the Irish on behalf of their president. They keep telling us how sorry they are for the president they elected.
“They tend to bring up politics with me, rather than the other way around. They find that Ireland is a safe destination and they are thrilled to be here and, thankfully, none of them have heard derogatory remarks in Ireland because they are Americans.”
He said it was clear from talking to his visitors that domestic politics – jobs, the economy, health care, drug abuse – engaged Americans far more than foreign policy in 2017.
“I have never heard any anti-immigrant sentiments among the people on my walks and thankfully none of them have heard any anti-American sentiments during their time in Ireland,” he says.
“They are here to enjoy themselves and the lovely atmosphere around the streets of Galway. But, even if they want to switch off, they can’t get away from Trump. They go to the bar and the barman asks them what they think of Trump’s latest tweet when he hears their accents.
“America seems to be a polarized country right now, but they are not coming across negative comments here in Ireland. I like to make a bit of fun about the whole thing on my walks, to have a giggle about one of Trump’s tweets. The only thing that surprises me is how much they feel a need to apologize on Trump’s behalf!”
One thing that strikes US visitor Zackary Taylor, a native of San Francisco, is how little interest there is among the young Irish in moving to America compared to the 1990s.
“We have a friend in Co Clare who says that all of her friends used to talk about going to America. She says that now nobody talks about moving to America anymore. They have basically lost interest. Her perception is that the United States is a country in decline and that it’s a lot less enticing than other countries, such as Australia or Canada.
“It’s no longer the dream of young Irish people to move there. America has kind of lost its appeal to young Irish people, it seems, which is shocking considering how many Irish people there are in America and the impact which Irish culture has had on America.”
Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook here.