Donald Trump will visit his five-star golf resort in Doonbeg, Co. Clare later this month. The GOP presidential nominee has created a top-class facility, earning many local fans as a result. Debbie McGoldrick spent Sunday night there to see what Trump has been up to in Ireland.
The news broke last Friday that Donald Trump is headed to Ireland at the end of the month to check out his five-star golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, perched right on the Atlantic Ocean in the charming little village of Doonbeg, Co. Clare.
I happened to be in Killarney, Co. Kerry for my annual “girls” family trip when Trump again made headlines in Ireland. Even before he tweeted his Irish travel plans, it was hard to avoid conversations about the presidential race with curious locals wondering if the bombastic businessman with the weird hair – “How does he manage to comb it like that?”– and “mad” policy goals – “He’ll never be able to exclude Muslims…will he?” – could possibly make it all the way to the White House.
Irish radio talk shows were full of debate about Trump’s upcoming sojourn to Clare. Should there be protests? Should the welcome mat be rolled out given that he’s created lots of jobs in a region that sorely needs them? (Most look back and agree that Trump’s 2014 trip was a national humiliation, what with a literal red carpet greeting The Donald’s jet at Shannon, a harpist on the tarmac and a top government official, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, on hand to provide an official welcome.)
Our itinerary after Killarney wasn’t set in stone, so we made a decision to head to Doonbeg for a stay at Trump’s resort to see what all the fuss is about – provided that the price was reasonable.
To my surprise, it definitely was. We booked two rooms online for a Sunday night stay, €240 each including breakfast for four people. One of the rooms needed to be handicap accessible; that was no problem.
About an hour after reserving, I received a call on my cell from a pleasant Irish woman working with online reservations at the resort. The rooms we had booked, she advised, were actually in the Links Cottages which were a 10 minute walk away from the main property which houses the restaurants, spa and other amenities, including a pro shop which sells lots of Trump branded merchandise, including his daughter Ivanka’s perfumes.
For an extra €50, she said, we could upgrade to a two-bedroom suite right near the action. It would be much nicer, she advised, and the handicapped room would be part of the deal. So we went for it.
Was this a Trump bait and switch, I initially thought? That turned out not to be the case. His reservation person did us a huge favor. The suite was to die for, and if I had bothered to read the fine print I would have learned that the Links Cottages I had booked are indeed on Trump’s land, but not near all the action, which is what we wanted in the first place.
That’s the thing with Trump these days, many would agree: make sure and read – and read again – the fine print before giving him a vote.
We arrived at Trump Doonbeg early last Sunday afternoon. It was a bank holiday weekend, the weather couldn’t have been better – about 75 and sun-kissed – and the natives were excited for the hurling match against Waterford.
The resort is definitely off the beaten path. There were Trump signs in nearby Kilrush pointing the way, but strangely, once we arrived in Doonbeg there was nothing, at least that we could see.
Of course we made a wrong left into the town. A helpful local advised us to turn around, and after we saw a pink cottage at the cross about five minutes away, Trumpville wouldn’t be far beyond.
My two cousins and I are native New Yorkers; my 90- turning 50-year-old Aunt Nora, the fourth in our traveling party, is from Kerry, but a U.S. citizen for decades who favors Trump casinos in Atlantic City. We’re also well familiar with Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, with its brass and gold and gaudy marble overdose similar to what you see in the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, the casino that he no longer owns but which still bears his name.
So it was a shock to say the least when we arrived on his Irish property, which he purchased at a rock bottom price of €15 million in 2014 after the previous owners couldn’t maintain it. The cobblestoned courtyard, landscaping in full bloom and reception area are testaments to understated style and elegance – a description not ever associated with The Donald.
The usual Trump tacky bling was missing from our suite too – thankfully. A helpful staffer brought us to our duplex, impeccably decorated in a rustic style with a fully functional modern kitchen, huge living/dining area with exposed wood beams, a 50 inch flat screen, gas fireplace and gorgeous dark hardwood floors. With two bathrooms, a washing machine and walk-in closets – and two more TVs in the bedrooms featuring plush pillow-top mattresses – one could easily live happily ever after in the suite, which also possesses a rare commodity in summertime Ireland: central air conditioning.
For lunch we headed to one of two restaurants, named Trump’s of course, overlooking the first golf hole with its huge “Trump Doonbeg” clock, a putting green and the stunning Atlantic Ocean. It was packed with guests and locals watching the hurling match on TV.
Again, we were pleasantly surprised at the value on offer, given that the resort is five star. We had soup, sandwiches, a chicken club and a burger, all with fries and all huge portions, with two glasses of wine, for €90 euro. This included the gratuity which was added to the bill. The service was tops, which couldn’t have been easy for the wait staff given that the place was packed indoors and out.
As far as the golf goes? We don’t play, but wow, oh wow! The course looks like a golfer’s paradise.
The setting couldn’t be more striking – the Cliffs of Moher are faintly in the background – and on Sunday, the wind was fairly calm, as was the ocean right below. The course looked incredibly inviting, and players were enjoying themselves well after 9 p.m. when the sun was still shining – one of the many joys of an Irish summer. (The cost for a round during the summer ranges from €150 to €180.)
During our time at Trump’s resort, I did not identify myself as media, nor did I request any kind of media privileges or accommodations. I went with the intention of seeking an unfiltered vibe and feel of a place that is owned by someone who could be the next president of the United States.
I engaged the staff as any other resort guest would, not looking to trick anyone into saying something negative/positive about the boss or his family. (Trump’s son Eric, we were told on many occasions, is the Trump who is actually in charge of Doonbeg, and he was there last month for the official opening of the newly redesigned course.)
The Donald, it has to be said, would be extremely proud of his Irish representatives. They seem to cover every inch of the resort at all times. You’ve got a question, or you need something? Turn around and someone is right there to provide immediate assistance.
We weren’t the only ones asking questions about “Mr. Trump,” as he’s known in these parts. Have staff been instructed to be polite and supportive of the GOP presidential nominee? Maybe ... but truth be told, many of them seemed genuinely sincere in their affection.
“When he comes here he couldn’t be more down to earth,” said a young female employee who has met Trump on several occasions. “He plays golf with the head pro, he comes around afterwards and talks to people, asks us how we are and remembers us. He doesn’t look for anything special. We respect him a lot because he’s good to us.
“I’ve heard about the politics and what’s happening in America of course,” she added. “But that’s really not something I get into. We know what he’s done in Clare, and it’s all been really good.”
Doughmore Beach lies directly underneath Trump’s golf course. It’s lovely and pristine in every way, and the public has access to it.
After our lunch, two of us decided to head off in search of the wall that Trump wants to build to ensure his course and resort won’t suffer from erosion and eventual ruin which is an undeniable issue in the area.
I asked a staffer where we could best view where Trump wants to build his Irish wall. The reply was polite, but firm.
“It’s not a wall that he’s looking to build,” she said. “It’s a natural preservation measure that he needs to take.”
Building a wall on Doughmore Beach, it seems, will be just as problematic as doing the same on the Mexican border should Trump win the presidency. The planning board, An Bord Pleanala, has already rejected the request which has since been re-submitted to Clare County Council. The rock barrier Trump wants to build will cost in the region of €10 million, and if it’s approved, he’s promised to invest millions more in his resort.
A couple of locals, enjoying the sand, sun and water with their two children, were asked about Trump and his plan to fortify his resort. They expressed support.
“We’ve heard about it and it’s not going to take away from anyone’s beach or the view. It’s just going to take care of what is already here so we don’t have a problem with that,” the husband replied.
“Look at where we are,” he added, gesturing to the ocean and the close proximity to the resort. “If they don’t do something to take care of it, it will be gone anyway.”
Though Trump has been widely pilloried in many Irish quarters – protestors are planning to greet him when he arrives on June 24 – around Clare and Doonbeg in particular, he’s viewed as a job creator and welcome addition to the community.
“When he comes here he is doing so as a businessman, not a politician. He has created more than 200 jobs at his resort, and many more seasonal ones, and those jobs were sorely needed. He is welcome in Doonbeg,” the mayor of Clare, James Breen, told our sister publication the Irish Voice.
Breen, who has never met Trump, is clear that the jobs and boost to the local economy that Trump has brought “are vital. We don’t want to lose those jobs. I am welcoming Donald Trump as a businessman, not as a politician. I want to make that clear.”
When asked about the political views Trump has expressed on the campaign trail, Breen said that’s “for the people of America to decide. It is up to the voters who they want to elect as president, and if they elect Donald Trump then we will deal with that.
“Politicians like to be controversial,” said Breen, who will step down from his mayoral post at the end of this month, “and Donald Trump is very good at creating controversy.”
Comerford’s pub in Doonbeg was alive on Sunday evening with outdoor music and a large crowd. Many of those spoken to said that Trump has been good for the town, has created solid jobs and is even responsible for the introduction of high speed broadband.
“I don’t have a problem with him,” said one twenty-something who declined to give his name. A friend of a friend works at Trump’s resort and is thankful for the job. “It’s a great place to work,” he added.
Not everyone at Comerford’s was so taken with Trump, though. Spruce Lynch is an American who moved to Ireland five years ago. “I am embarrassed by Trump,” she said. “I am watching what’s going on and it’s unbelievable.”
Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Donald Trump has created a sumptuous resort in Doonbeg. He called it “small potatoes” during a campaign stop, but like much of what Trump says these days, he can’t have been serious.