In addition to its status as a tourism destination, Waterville is famous in Ireland as the home of Mick O’Dwyer, the Irish football coach (as iconic a figure as Vince Lombardi is over here), and for being a favorite vacation spot of silent film star Charlie Chaplin. There’s even a statue of the “Modern Times” star in Waterville’s downtown.
Waterville is also famous for being developed for tourism in the first place by John A. Mulcahy, an Irish American who created huge employment in the area.
Mulcahy, a Kerry native, made his fortune in America where he emigrated to in 1924 at age 18. In the 1960s he returned to his native Kerry, where he decided he would build up local industry and tourist opportunities using American know-how.
He took the moribund Waterville links course and turned it into one of the best golf courses in the world.
He also restored Waterville House, the five star hotel on the property, and provided a huge amount of local employment, which has continued since.
He was a close confidant of President Nixon and even features on one of the White House tapes. He hosted Nixon during the president’s visit to Ireland in 1970.
During that visit he displayed a prescience that was extraordinary about Irish immigration.
Asked what he thought of the Kennedys Mulcahy barked “ 'I didn't like them...”
“They voted for an immigration law which effectively prevented Irish people entering America,” he said, referring to their now infamous vote which ended Irish immigration to the US in 1965.
His town has been in the news for a different reason this past week, as Americans react angrily to a sign posted in the window of of a Waterville café, which also discourages coach tours from entering.
It is a sad reflection that the owners of Peter’s Place saw a reason to post such a sign. It caters to every stereotype imaginable and is genuinely hurtful to Irish Americans.
American media has now picked it up too with NBC ABC and Fox News covering it. Consumerist Magazine even showed this video of an Irish guy kicking in a MacDonald's in Galway to show how violent Irish troublemakers could be.
The reaction from Americans was sudden and angry. Most Americans felt insulted, and rightly so. Are there loud Americans? Of course! Are there drunken Irish who misbehave? Of course!
Does that mean all should be tagged with the same label? Of course not, but Peter’s Place evidently believes so.
There is often a love-hate relationship with Americans in heavily trafficked tourist areas in Ireland.
It is a little like the overall relationship between Irish America and Ireland, friendly, affectionate but contentious at times.
Put simply, places like Waterville and Killarney could hardly exist without the American dollar and the coach tours and the massive boost that the American tourist brings every year.
There is also major American investment in the area. The Waterville Lake Hotel is still owned by Irish Americans, who saved it from bankruptcy. And it’s very unlikely the town, perhaps even the region, would be the tourist destination it is today had John A. Mulcahy not laid the groundwork.
So Waterville has a lot to thank America for. Perhaps because of that very dependence there is a simmering resentment in parts.
None bring it to the level of Peter’s Place however, outright banning Americans.
It is hard to see how any self-respecting American would walk into the place anyway seeing that sign.
The café could have handled it so much better. A sign inside asking that conversations be kept at a low volume without naming any country would have been perfectly acceptable.
Instead the owner Peter FitzGerald, who has apparently gone to ground, broke the primary rule of offering hospitality and welcome, which the Irish treasure above all else.
Sure it is an isolated incident, but it sure smacks of biting the hands that feed the Ring of Kerry year after year.
Without those American coaches Waterville and Peter’s Place would be much worse off, as would the other stops on the Ring of Kerry tour.
How quickly some can forget where the buttered bread comes from!