Barack and Michelle Obama are greeted at Dublin Airport by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney. PADDY CUMMINS/COLLINSPresident Obama and Mary McAleese at the Aras.
AIR Force One broke through the grey skies looming over Dublin as US President Barack Obama's arrival was heralded by gale-force winds and biting rain.
It was a fitting metaphor, perhaps, for the occasion.
As we are painfully aware, a cloud has enveloped the country in recent times, leaving us praying the charismatic US president would bring some of those magic messages of hope to lift the gloom.
And he didn't disappoint.
Mr Obama and his glamorous wife Michelle seemed impervious to the miserable conditions that greeted them as they stepped off the famous presidential plane at 9.40am, 12 minutes after it landed.
Within seconds, Mrs Obama's carefully coiffed hair was in disarray, but she didn't appear to be bothered in the slightest.
Waving to the waiting media and wearing a broad smile, she clasped her husband's hand and the pair descended the steps to Irish soil, where they were greeted by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney.
There were handshakes and hugs for US Ambassador Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia, while Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) chief executive Declan Collier also got the Obama treatment.
The president was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and mauve tie, while the first lady wore a black, white and grey checked dress and fitted black jacket.
A busy day lay ahead, and the visitors were quickly taken to the waiting presidential helicopter, known as Marine One, before being whisked away to Aras an Uachtarain for a courtesy call with President Mary McAleese -- the first appointment of the day.
In all, Mr Obama was in the open air of the airport for just one minute. But in that time he displayed the star quality so associated with his predecessor -- and Ireland's favourite US president to date -- John F Kennedy.
More than 50 members of the media were on hand to catch the first glimpse of Mr Obama before he embarked on his whirlwind visit, the seventh time a sitting US president has visited us. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the man who had electrified American politics and urged everyone to "dare to dream".
TV crews, photographers and reporters had gathered in Dublin Castle at 5.30am before being bussed to the airport.
An advance team of officials and Secret Service agents took up residence at the airport 10 days ago, liaising with gardai, airport police and members of the Defence Forces to ensure the president and first lady would be safe on arrival. All airport staff working on or near the runway were put through rigorous security checks. A base camp was set up on an isolated part of the airport known as the west apron, and US military helicopters arrived last week.
Heavily armed soldiers with ground-to-air missiles, armoured 4x4s with heavy machine guns and personnel carriers have patrolled and guarded the airport perimeter since last week, with all plane-spotters banned from their usual watching posts.
For a 15-minute interval there was no traffic at the airport apart from the presidential jet and helicopter.
But despite all the security, the airport was abuzz with excitement during preparations for the high-profile visit.
Then, finally, the presidential couple arrived when Air Force One touched down at 9.28am. It took seven minutes to park, and was immediately surrounded by more than two dozen Secret Service agents.
At 9.40am, the couple emerged. A minute later, they were in Marine One and the official visit had begun.
The president had arrived.
Irish Independent Supplement