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Saturday 21 October 2017

Ireland's best days are still ahead, Obama promises us

Huge crowds told to never give up their hopes for future, writes Fionnan Sheahan

US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd after speaking in College Green. Photo: Getty Images
US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd after speaking in College Green. Photo: Getty Images
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

US President Barack Obama last night drew upon the memory of John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton to deliver a powerful message of determination and hope.

Capping a momentous day with an address to a crowd of 40,000 in Dublin, he said Ireland's best days are still to come.

Speaking of the ties between Ireland and the United States, he said he had "come home".

However, his visit was cut short when he flew on to London last night to avoid an ash cloud from the latest Icelandic volcano eruption.

During a thrilling day, Mr Obama visited his ancestral home in Co Offaly, after which he declared: "My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas and I've come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way."

Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spent the morning in the Phoenix Park where he met with President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In his speech at College Green, Mr Obama delivered a message of hope to the country in these difficult economic times.

"This little country that inspires the biggest things -- your best days are still ahead," he said.

"Our greatest triumphs in America and Ireland alike are still to come," he added.

Mr Obama recognised the contribution of Irish-Americans, paid tribute to former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and praised the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr and Mrs Obama arrived on Air Force One just before 9.30am with gale-force winds and biting rain lashing down on Dublin Airport.

Mr Obama first went to Aras an Uachtarain to meet with Mrs McAleese. He planted a tree in the gardens of the Aras, a few feet away from where Queen Elizabeth performed a similar duty last week.

He then moved on to Farmleigh House where he held a meeting with Mr Kenny.

The leaders discussed the economy, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Ireland's relationship with the United States, the queen's visit to Ireland and Mr Obama's policy on immigration.

Mr Obama said how "inspired" the Americans were by the progress made in Northern Ireland.

"It speaks to the possibilities of peace and people in long standing struggles that they can re-imagine their relationships.

"Seeing her majesty the queen of England coming here and to see the mutual warmth and healing that took place during that visit, to know that the former Taoiseach FitzGerald was able to witness that sends a signal not just in England, not just here in Ireland but around the world.

"It sends what Bobby Kennedy once called a 'ripple of hope' that manifests itself in a whole range of places," he said.

At a quick stop in the US Embassy, Mr Obama had to change limousine after the first of his cars got stuck on a security ramp. Nicknamed 'The Beast', the limousine had to be towed away from the building in Ballsbridge last night.

Despite concerns about the weather, Mr Obama flew by helicopter to the village of Moneygall, Co Offaly.

Mr and Mrs Obama shook hands with many of the 3,000 locals present, plucking babies out of the crowd and posing for photos.

He went on to visit the house built on the site of the home of his great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney.

Ordering a pint of Guinness in Ollie Hayes's bar, Mr Obama left a €50 note on the bar to pay for his drinks.

"I just want you to know the president pays his bar tab," he said.

After his visit, his eighth cousin, Henry Healy, said Mr Obama said he would return someday.

"He has promised he's coming back and we can't wait and we'll have a hooley," he said.

By mid-afternoon, College Green was packed to capacity with gardai telling people hoping to attend not to turn up.

At one point, event organisers put the attendance numbers at 100,000, but other estimates put the size of the crowd at 40,000 -- with 25,000 in College Green and another 15,000 in nearby locations watching on big TV screens.

Fire Safety Engineers managing director Michael Slattery, who was the overall event safety coordinator, told the White House press pool the crowd at College Green topped 25,000.

The crowd was entertained by a series of performers and bands, recitals by Hollywood Irish actors and appearances by sports stars.

Mr Kenny introduced Mr Obama, saying: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that Ireland is a place where all things are possible, today is your answer. Today the 44th American president comes home."

Mr Obama began his speech with a series of one liners about his personal connections with Ireland. He spoke of how the emigration of his own ancestors from Ireland echoed so many stories in America.

"And when an Iron Curtain fell across this continent and our way of life was challenged, it was our first Irish president -- our first Catholic president -- John F Kennedy, who made us believe 50 years ago this week that mankind could do something as big and bold and ambitious as walk on the moon. He made us dream again," he said.

And he recalled President Bill Clinton's address in the same spot in 1995, when his predecessor said "waging peace is risky".

But Mr Obama said the country responded heroically when the peace was challenged.

"And America will stand by you, always. America will stand by you always in your pursuit of peace," he said.

Building up to a climax, Mr Obama rounded off with a hopeful message of determination to fight adversity.

Triumphs

"This little country, that inspires the biggest things -- your best days are still ahead. Our greatest triumphs -- in America and Ireland alike -- are still to come.

"And, Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, or your challenges are too great, that we can't do something, that we shouldn't even try -- think about all that we've done together.

"Remember that whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner. And if they keep on arguing with you, just respond with a simple creed: Is feidir linn. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Is feidir linn," he said.

In relaxed mood, Mr Obama spent time going down into the crowd to shake hands with ordinary members of the public -- and even accepted an offer to speak on a mobile phone.

But the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland forced Mr Obama to leave the country on board Air Force One last night for his state visit to England, rather than staying in Dublin for the night.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed the premature departure was "due to a recent change in the trajectory in the plume of volcanic ash".

Mr Obama went for dinner with US Ambassador Dan Rooney at the Ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park.

Irish Independent Supplement

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