But on Monday, though, Obama basked in the adoration of the Irish. Thousands lined the street in Moneygall, waiting for more than three hours in heavy rain, hail, and a strong wind. The estimated crowd of 25,000 was rewarded when the president took time to walk the rope line and shake hands in what may be the only time in his six-day, four-nation trip that he mingles with the European public.
John Donovan, a shopkeeper and funeral director who owns what has been declared the president's ancestral home, promised reporters that he had the place "spic and span" for their famous guest. But he added, "I am so nervous, I can't talk."
Asked if he would serve tea to the president, he responded, "I think he's more interested in a pint."
Of course, no visit to Ireland can be complete without a pint in a pub, and Obama met that test, popping into Ollie Hayes's Pub on Main Street. Ever since the 2008 presidential campaign, the pub has been adorned with Obama memorabilia--perhaps more than can be found in any bar anywhere in the world.
Campaign posters line the wall near the fireplace; a painting shows Obama hoisting a pint of ale; a sign proclaims Moneygall as the "Irish Ancestral Home of Barack Obama"; and a bumper sticker proclaims in Irish "Obama Abu," which translates roughly to "Hooray Obama" or "Obama forever."
Majella Hayes, who owns the pub with her husband, Ollie, also designed a T-shirt with their son, Billy. On sale for 10 euros ($14.38), the shirt shows a pint of Guinness and the text "O'Bama's Irish Pub"--with a shamrock for the apostrophe between O and B.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of Obama memorabilia is the large metal bust of the 44th president that occupies a place of honor on the bar. "Americans started coming here after he was elected," Majella told National Journalrecently as she was taping a sign on the wall that said, "Irish Visit 2011. Beautiful Ireland Welcomes President Obama." It showed a map of Ireland with a large red dot in the center marking the location of Moneygall.
Surrounded by all this, the president seemed at home. He was overheard telling one man, "You look a little like my grandfather." To those inside, Obama said, "What a thrill it is to be here. There are millions of Irish-Americans who trace their ancestry back to this beautiful island."
When he finished talking, Obama said, "And with that, let me have a pint." After being cheered for taking the first swig of his pint of Guinness, Obama announced, "I just want you to know the president pays." The normal price of a pint of Guinness is 3.75 euros. He finished at least three quarters of the pint.
Ollie Hayes was thrilled to be hosting the president. "A presidential visit is just the greatest thing to imagine," he said in a recent interview. The visit isn't just good for business, he said--it is also good for the spirits of the Irish people who have been hard hit by their debt crisis. "Things are bad, but not as bad as people think," he said.