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Thousands queue for hours to revel in street celebration

IT was the hottest ticket in town and they came in their thousands just to be part of the massive street party.

Just a week ago, hundreds of gardai saturated the streets of the capital to head off republican demonstrations surrounding Queen Elizabeth's visit.

Yesterday, the contrast could not have been greater as "Obamania" descended on Dublin.

Bedecked in Obama T-shirts, American hats and waving stars and stripes flags, a human tide of revellers swept toward College Green for a glimpse of President Barack Obama at his celebration in the city.

Street vendors were busily hawking American flags for €3 as thousands of people flocked to the Christchurch area to join the long queue snaking its way down Lord Edward Street toward College Green.

Some had arrived overnight, but the majority good naturedly endured hours of waiting as they wound their way toward the US Secret Service-run airport style security screens outside City Hall.

Electronic signs and public announcements warned them not to bring bags, backpacks, food, beverages or umbrellas beyond the "sterile" zone.

And by the time the revellers reached the checkpoint, mounds of discarded plastic bottles of water, backpacks, umbrellas, food and plastic bags began to pile up on the street.

Such was the initial security concerns among the Secret Service that even children's buggies were prevented from getting through.

The clampdown led to huge disappointment for mothers with buggies -- including Fiona O Fiaich from Rathfarnham, Dublin.

Accompanied by her children Ailbe (5) and two-year-old Rian, who was in his buggy, they had queued for almost an hour with thousands of others.

But just as they reached the security zone they were told that the buggy would not be allowed through.

"We got as far as City Hall when the gardai told me the Americans were saying 'no buggies'. I was going to say that this was a bit Irish, but it's American," said Fiona as she prepared to turn around and make her way back home.

Geraldine McGowan and her daughter Catherine (12), sporting an Obama T-shirt, had travelled from Belfast for a glimpse of the president.

"I saw Bill Clinton in Belfast in 1995, but it was nothing like this," said Geraldine.

Kevin O'Keeffe from Clonmel was queueing for more than two hours with still some way to go before getting through the security bottleneck.

"It's great craic. I haven't seen a US president live since John F Kennedy," he joked.

Martin Varley travelled from Wicklow with his 10-year-old son Matthew, who was there to see the president and Jedward.

"It's fantastic," said Martin, who had been queuing for more than a hour. "Why didn't they do something like this for the queen."

By 5.30pm the tight security miraculously evaporated as Secret Service agents stepped aside and the thousands still waiting to make their way into College Green were allowed to surge unhindered through the screening channels.

The reason became obvious a short distance later as they only managed to get as far as the junction of South Great George's Street before security barriers brought them to a halt.

Thousands of people unable to get into an already bursting-at-the-seams College Green had to be content to watch Mr Obama on giant screens.

"I knew we probably wouldn't get close enough to see the president," said Sandy Geoghegan Bushe from Wicklow.

She had endured a four-hour wait with her four children Ross (15), Dara (11), Scot (7) and Bobbi (3) only to get tantalisingly close but not close enough.

"Such was the crowd that for an hour we didn't move at all but at least we got this far," said Sandy, adding she had been forced to "abandon" her buggy at a nearby pub.

Irish Independent Supplement