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Obama's Kilkenny roots?



U.S. President Obama in Dublin, 2011

23 May —

When I crossed O'Connell Bridge, heading up toward College Green just to get a look at the scene of the later presidential speech, I was shocked by the emotion I felt when I saw a young lad waving a couple of American flags, examples of those which he was selling. I almost cried -- I had to tell myself "no; not here, not in the middle of the city." I had to wonder if I'd be able for the emotion of the day. The answer: "yes and no."

The love of the Irish for Americans is real, not theoretical. It's present, not just historical. (This love never translated for me into the physical comfort of the affection of Irish women. The story of my experience with Irish-American love would not be complete without this note.) The sight of the waving rally-sized Old Glory pounded me in the heart, struck me blind-sided.

I didn't know if I'd attend the rally. It was clear early that the inner cordoned area, suitable for about 20,000 people, was going to be at capacity before I got there. One fella they interviewed on the radio broadcast I heard on the bus had been queuing since 11 the night before.

The American security crew were metal-detecting people at the intersection of Dame and Parliament streets, and people were then walking the half-mile or so east on Dame Street to College Green. I was uncomfortable about taking my place in a massive slow-moving crowd, and I spent much of the afternoon walking up and around the whole area, occasionally talking to the gardai (irish police) who were manning the barricades, and getting some idea about how things were going to work. (Here's where I gotta give proper respect to the gardai. They were consistently helpful and heroically patient. I was but one of a constant flow of people asking for information. Even the one fella whom I'd thought was fobbing me off spoke to me as I turned away, calling me back to explain what he'd meant to say.)

The president was to speak at 5:30. Sometime just after 4 o'clock I became really overwhelmed by the whole scene, lonely in a crowd, having strong feelings and nobody to share the experience with me... there's probably no better place than Dublin to discover delightful little unexpected interactions, but it wasn't enough.... Solitude.... Take a nap in the park.... I went to St. Stephen's Green and found a place to lie down in the sunlight.

I didn't sleep. I just closed out the world -- I didn't need to interact, lying there looking at the sky. Partly cloudy, blue, strong eratic wind. Parts of the tree might fall on me, but once I accepted that, I relaxed.

As soon as I could relax, I made a decision. I'd go back to Parliament and Dame. I'd ask the gards there what were my chances of getting in. If not, I'd go get on the 5:30 bus. (The next after that would be 8:30, the final to Kilkenny.)

There was a massive, street-wide queue at Parliament and Dame. I asked a gard about the prospects, and he said that the inner zone was at capacity, that I might get in but that I'd be watching on a screen. You'd probably be better off going to a pub.

I headed toward the bus station. When I got to the River Liffey, the north-south division (between, in this case, me and the bus station,) the streets along both sides were closed, definitively. People were lined up along the quays on both sides, as far as I could see. Something was afoot. I walked eastward, downstream, toward a government building where I could stand the steps. A mutter went through the sparse, linear crowd, and so stopped, and stood up onto the stone bench next to me.

It was the presidential motorcade. Some people cheered, some clapped, some waved. Most stood, quietly, and observed. Probably few restrained a burning little tear, thinking "that's my president. I'm going home."

I walked up toward the Temple Bar area, rich in pubs and near to College Green.

In the Temple Bar pub itself, some lad on guitar is introducing "Dirty Old Town." A TV screen is on aside the bar, but there's no sound. I went to Oliver St. John Gogarty. Ryan Tubridy was getting ready to introduce Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny.

I decided I might as well go somewhere I could hear the speech, at least.

People were lined up along Westmoreland street. A gard there told me that when the music was playing he could only hear it when the wind was blowing in that direction.

I walked back toward a particular spot, I don't know what it's called, a bit of a square adjacent to the Foggy Dew pub. I knew there were PA-system speakers there, because there was a huge TV screen faced out over Dame street. The crowd, this side of the barricade, was lined up in a wedge shape that corresponded to a thin angular view of the screen, which was then showing the now-infamous (too-long) speech by Taoiseach Enda Kenny (which was only supposed to be an introduction.)

I edged over toward the edge-on view of the big LED screen, and as I did noticed a movement over between the barrier in the road and the barrier across the square. It didn't look exactly like it was supposed to be an entrance, but it definitely didn't look like it absolutely wasn't supposed to be. The garda standing by it was faced away. I followed the small flow of people through.

And there I was in. Not in the inner cordoned area, the security-checked, line-of-sight area; but in as good a position to enjoy the event as was anybody who hadn't waited for hours in queue.

Crystaline shouts of love. A man with both fists in the air. Girls with American flags painted on their cheeks. More shouts of love. The warmth of pure reception. One of their own, the President of the United States of America.


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