Monday 25 March 2019

Huge security operation for Ronald Reagan’s visit

Political protesters vowed to harass US president through his Ireland tour

Nancy and Ronald Reagan during their Irish visit in 1984
Nancy and Ronald Reagan during their Irish visit in 1984

Chris Parkin and Ralph Riegel

The government triggered an almost unprecedented security operation for the visit of United States President Ronald Reagan to Ireland in 1984.

The one-time film star, handed the head of state role by the American electorate three years earlier, was given an extra spur to pencil in this country for an upcoming European tour when genealogists uncovered his family roots in Co Tipperary.

The stage was set for a tearful homecoming to the small town of Ballyporeen on top of a range of official events in Dublin and other centres.

The late President's great-grandfather Michael Regan (the spelling of the surname was changed later) was baptised in Ballyporeen in 1829.

He went on to take the emigration trail in search of success, quitting the area in the middle of the 19th century, heading firstly to London and later to the United States.

The scion of the Tipperary Regan's made his name as an actor in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s, before becoming a spokesman for major US corporations in the 1960s, and deepening his links to the Republican Party.

He served successfully as Governor of California before winning the White House from Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The established presidential link was enough to generate a huge wave of enthusiasm in that part of Co Tipperary and beyond.

The name of the local family-run pub was soon changed to the Ronald Reagan Lounge, samples of the local soil were put on sale and a special visit to the area by the distinguished politician was laid on.

But not everyone approved of the visit - a point confirmed by just-released official documents for the year.

Political opposition to US overseas policies, particularly in Central America, ran high in some circles, and when Mr Reagan called in at Ballyporeen more than 500 noisy protesters had to be confined behind barriers on the outskirts of the town.

Objectors even formed a Ronald Reagan reception committee to co-ordinate protests.

They pledged: "We promise to harass him wherever he sets foot in Ireland. There is a groundswell of opposition to the visit."

There was also resistance to a decision by the National University of Ireland (NUI) to confer an honorary degree on Mr Reagan. But State papers revealed that the Government were not entertaining any possible slight to the US President.

Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald (inset) brushed aside resistance to the degree, highlighting the view that differing perceptions of political events should not affect the honouring of the president of a country that had "welcomed so many Irish people" and with which Ireland had the "most friendly relations".

While in Dublin, President Reagan delivered an emotion-charged address to a joint session of the Oireachtas.

First Lady Nancy Reagan was present, with the only protest being staged by Proinsias de Rossa and Tomas MacGiolla of the Workers Party and independent Tony Gregory, who walked out when Mr Reagan appeared in the Dail chamber.

A major public protest was mounted in Dublin as President Reagan attended the US Ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park and a number of arrests were later made by Gardai.

Back in Ballyporeen, meantime, President Reagan duly visited the pub named in his honour. Special crowd control measures had been put in place, with the Gardai and Defence Forces closely liaising with the US Secret Service.

US agents visited Ballyporeen weeks before the visit and had inspected every house and vantage point close to where President Reagan and his entourage would visit.

Some years later, though, the 'Ronald Reagan Lounge' closed down - but its fittings and outdoor sign were later transferred for permanent display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Poignantly, the year the Ronald Reagan Lounge finally closed its door was 2004 - the year of the President's death.

Irish Independent

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