Wednesday 22 May 2019

'A beautiful day' as President Clinton visits

Margaret RODDY

DUNDALK'S Square has been the location for many historic political gatherings, Daniel O'Connell spoke there in the 19th century, but for the current generation the one which will stand out is the visit of US President Bill Clinton on December 12th 2001.

A crowd of 60,000 gathered to hear the charismatic President tell them that Dundalk was 'now a boom time'. President Clinton choose to come to Dundalk as part of his visit to Ireland to highlight the benefits brought about by the Peace Process.

Once confirmation that he would be stopping off here en route from Dublin to Belfast, the biggest security operation ever seen in the town got underway. The traffic lights were removed at the Market Square, as were litter bins and manhole covers were sealed. Hundreds of additional telephone lines were installed, including one to the hospital in the event of the President falling ill.

The Arts Office at the Market Square was transformed into a communication centre for the world's media and an impressive stage set up at the mouth of Earl Street.

Local musicians including Liam Reilly entertained the thousands who had gathered from early in the day to get a prime spot for the president's visit.

At 8.25pm, he arrived in Earl Street, his cavalcade being the first vehicles to travel along the then new stretch of the Dunleer to Dundalk motorway.

President Clinton was accompanied by his wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his partner Celia Larkin, and Minister Dermot Ahern.

The honour of welcoming President Clinton to Dundalk fell on the then Dundalk Town Council chairman Cllr Pearse O'Hanrahan while local woman Joan MacGuinness spoke of the benefits which the Peace Process had brought to Dundalk.

Quoting U2, President Clinton commented that it was 'a beautiful day' to start his speech, one littered with references to Dundalk which delighted the crowds.

He told how he and his family had heard The Corrs perform in Washington the previous Sunday. 'They did you proud'. He had heard that there was a vacancy in McManus' Bar as the singing siblings had never been replaced from their days working behind the counter, and he joked that in a few weeks he would have free time when he left office.

'You know, I feel at home here. And so, even though I can't claim to have a g ra n n y buried in Castletown, I hope you won't call me a blow-in.'

Having gained the attention of the massive crowd, President Clinton then proceeded to deliver a finely crafted message in which he stressed the benefits accruing from peace.

At the end, Belfast singer Brian Kennedy was joined by the choir from St Joseph's NS and local violinist Pat Treacy for a performance of one of the president's favourite songs, 'Danny Boy'.

Much to the delight of those who had braved the cold to hear him speak, President Clinton then proceeded to shake hands with many of those standing at the front, to the obv iou s discomfort of his security personnel.