THEN, as now, Christmas was approaching in 1995 as Hillary Clinton landed in Ireland with her husband. It was a Christmas she would never forget and would have a profound influence on America's top diplomat.
It was an unlikely Christmas in an unlikely place, the kind of Christmas no one ever thought possible. A year after nurturing an IRA ceasefire, President Clinton had come to Belfast City Hall to switch on the Christmas tree lights. "Tonight is a night filled with hope and peace," Hillary Clinton told the crowd, as she introduced her husband. She would never forget the cheering crowd as her husband told them: "We will stand with you as you take risks for peace."
Fourteen years later, when President Barack Obama appointed the first lady-turned-US senator and one-time rival for the presidency as his secretary of state, it was to the Irish peace she looked for inspiration. "I look to Ireland," she said, "to teach us what enduring peace looks like. Not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice."
And, once again, it is to Ireland she comes this week as Christmas approaches and she faces another momentous decision – whether to run for the US presidency. Hers has been a journey of setbacks and achievements but, each time, she has been able to bite whatever bullet awaited her.
At the height of the impeachment moves against her husband, it was said that Hillary was the Republicans' real target. They knew her husband was always going to defeat them in the end but, if they could get Hillary to desert him, that would be the end of his presidency. It was a grave miscalculation. They might have humiliated her, but that was just politics. This was about history, her place and her husband's place in it. This was a woman who understood the snake-pit of Washington politics better than any of them.
Allied to her steely determination and intellect, Hillary Clinton has many other qualities that are not often seen. When I worked in Washington during her husband's two terms, I met her a number of times and found her to be a woman of enormous warmth, charm and compassion.
She cared about politics, she said, when I met her while she was running for the US Senate in 2000, and her reason stayed with me. "It's about trying to make peoples' lives better, especially women's lives in other countries."
All the indications are that Hillary Clinton has her sights on the office in 2016. "She has the fire in her belly," says Stella O'Leary, president of the Irish American Democrats support group.
"I don't know whether she will run. But I hope she is thinking of it. It will be 2014 before we know she is in the race. It would be a question of money too. Around $6bn was spent on the last elections, $2bn of it on the presidential race. That gives an idea of the money she would need. She'd need Wall Street help. She hasn't said she will run, but the indications are that she's definitely thinking about it."
Then there are the IOUs – from 2008, when she abandoned her presidential bid and held the party together for Mr Obama, and again this year. But her husband's campaign for Mr Obama this year was not just about gathering IOUs for Hillary. If she runs, he wanted her not to have to face a Republican in four years time, when the US economy will most likely have recovered. Better a Democrat in office then so Americans will reward another one. Enter, Hillary.
But first, she will take some time off to rest when she resigns as secretary of state in January, those close to her say. Then, most likely in the second half of 2014, she will decide finally whether to run. If elected, she would be 69 years and three months on inauguration day – eight months younger than Ronald Reagan when he became president in 1981.
And if she does stand, and I believe from following her career that she will, she will have a much better chance of winning in 2016 than she would have had in 2008. Americans, who once saw her as a polarising figure in politics, now give her a 66pc favourable rating.
Her diplomatic work in trouble spots abroad has also helped to cement a valuable alliance at home among emigrant groups – the valuable new demographic that helped Mr Obama win re-election. But one of the strongest alliances remains with Irish-Americans, a group for which she and her husband clearly have a gra.
"The Irish are absolutely behind her," says Stella O'Leary. So, in 2016, Ireland could have not just an open door on Pennsylvania Avenue but an open house!
Bette Browne was a senior editor with Reuters in London, New York and Washington and previously worked on the foreign desk of 'The Times' of London and with the 'South China Morning Post' in Hong Kong.