Wednesday 21 August 2019

Doonbeg at the ready as upbeat locals to welcome US president

Getting set: Gardaí in Doonbeg, Co Clare ahead of Donald Trump’s arrival. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Getting set: Gardaí in Doonbeg, Co Clare ahead of Donald Trump’s arrival. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Lisa Shanahan and Caitlin Hitchinson, from Chicago. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Getting set: Gardaí in Doonbeg, Co Clare ahead of Donald Trump’s arrival. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Kathleen Whelan with a Trump figure. Photos: Gerry Mooney

Nicola Anderson in Doonbeg

Drowned after a morning spent looking for golf balls in the rough, one of the caddies from the golf club had come down to the village for a hot chocolate with "loads of sugar".

He wore a black bib with a very fancy gold embroidered Trump crest on the back.

There must have been between 60 and 80 gardaí in the fields around the place, he estimated.

"The poor hares have nowhere to go, and the rabbits," he said.

The naval vessel the LÉ James Joyce was floating off the coast while three inflatable ribs with armed personnel bobbed about some distance away.

On a damp day in Co Clare, it seemed the whole of the Garda force had descended upon every crossroads and boreen in the place to form the all important 'ring of steel'.

At the top of the village, six gardaí checked cars, allowing only local access.

Anyone living near the golf resort had been given a special security pass to get in and out of the zone.

Little Pádraig Blunnie (6), from Doonbeg, was excitedly explaining this massive security operation to the local shop keeper.

"They send up two helicopters so that if someone tries to get President Trump, they won't know which one he's in," he said.

"I found that out in school," he added airily.

Pádraig wasn't sure if he would get to see President Donald Trump himself - but he was going to try.

There was no denying that this private presidential visit has far from generated the frenzy and the feel-good factor of the Obama visit - but there was certainly a sense that people are quite happy to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

At nearby Lissycasey village, a derelict petrol station was being decked out like a macabre 'Donald Plaza', in an homage to the better known, way more salubrious Obama version.

It's all part of a Paddy Power bookmakers' stunt and they had spray-painted the decaying petrol pumps a very Trumpian gold.

And in a 'crazy if true' story, locals said there were rumours that Trump's nemesis, Stormy Daniels, might even show up.

But one thing is certain - someone here is bound to be picked out by The Donald and declared a "stone-cold loser" or some other Twitter-friendly equivalent.

Odds-on that it will be our own president - who would almost certainly consider it a badge of honour.

His stout remarks about his US counterpart's attitude on climate change are bound to get a sour reception, as he urged "in the strongest possible terms the USA to reconsider its regressive and pernicious decision to leave the global Paris agreement".

An immaculately trimmed green area had been neatly pinpointed for the anticipated protesters on the approach to Shannon Airport, conveniently situated 100 metres away from Starbucks.

Nine portaloos had been lined up. All mod cons.

There were plenty of gardaí on site - but there were no protesters.

"Too wet for them," explained a garda, with some satisfaction.

A phonecall to one of the organisers revealed that they plan to arrive in the morning, with the main protest taking place at 6pm.

But while there will be plenty of dissent in this country surrounding the visit, in Doonbeg, the atmosphere is firmly upbeat.

A proper ceili is organised in the village for tonight to celebrate the arrival of the biggest employer in the area.

"It'll never be seen again - the president of America coming to Clare," said shopkeeper Kathleen Whelan, who had put a teddy bear in a Trump mask in the driving seat of her Robin Reliant as a welcome to him.

"He's fantastic - a breath of fresh air to the whole west of Ireland," declared publican Tommy Tubridy.

"It's a pity there's not more men like him bringing employment to rural Ireland."

He had Donald Jnr and Eric in the pub, he revealed, describing them as "very down to earth".

The community has been through some tough times of late.

Three or four years ago, Doonbeg lost its Garda station while three months ago it lost its post office, with older people having to travel to Kilrush or Kilkee, each 7km away, to collect their pensions.

"But there is a great community spirit here," he said.

And since Trump came to Doonbeg, "everything has improved," said Tommy.

He is expecting a great summer on the back of this visit.

"Any time an American president comes to Ireland, a lot of people seem to follow him," he said.

Four American tourists had come into Tubridy's in the hope of lunch.

Here for a week's vacation, they had been greatly annoyed to be told by their taxi driver that their president would be following in their footsteps.

Lisa Shanahan, Kelly Shanahan, Caitlin Hitchinson and Danielle Javier, all from Chicago, said they'd had an option to stay at the Trump resort in Doonbeg but decided not to because they had come to Ireland to escape him.

Asked if they would be watching the visit on TV, they were adamant, absolutely not.

Even farmers had not escaped the Trump security net - at a recent community meeting, they were asked not to spread slurry or even cut silage during the visit.

Doonbeg Community Development chairperson John Flanagan, who farms land bordering the Doonbeg resort, said most farmers wouldn't have been able to cut silage or spread slurry this week in any case, because of weather conditions.

"It's the least of farmers' worries. This is the biggest thing to ever happen in west Clare," said Mr Flanagan.

Irish Independent

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