The Obamas’ holiday checklist: cameras, midge cream, media overkill
They came, they saw, they closed off streets. Wasn’t the first family’s Irish visit a bit silly?
Cavalcade: the Obamas’ convoy in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Look, the Obamas seemed like very nice people, and they said lovely things about us. They cheered some people up a bit and gave others something to gawk at, and they are clearly very, very important. But now that they’re gone, can we just admit that their visit was a bit ridiculous?
You don’t have to go all in with Clare Daly’s “slobbering” judgment to observe that it was an enormous fuss for three people on a pretend holiday.
The itinerary was exactly the sort that would be dreamed up in the unimagination of a State agency. The coverage was justifiable only on the basis that a lot of reporters had been dispatched, so they had better find something to report.
And the Obamas’ presence in the capital was so heavy-handed and demanding that if it had been the family of any other world leader – or, let’s say, Laura Bush and her two girls – they would have been accused of representing gross arrogance.
“We are just like you,” Michelle Obama told the young audience at Riverdance. The sentiment was sincere, encouraging and spoken with the sunshine warmth that makes the first lady so winning, yet it was delivered in the middle of a trip that confirmed the vast distance between her family and the Gaiety’s audience.
The Obamas may once have been like the people in that room, but not now. The rest of that room does not travel around in a bubble of security sweeps and cavalcades, of barriers and closed streets.
They do not live with an appropriate distance between them and the public as deigned by a secret service that acts with great authority even on host soil. They don’t step straight from doorway to car, with only a half-glimpsed wave tossed towards people who have waited patiently to cheer them.
And every titbit about what members of that audience said, wore, ate and drank wouldn’t be pored over by a media that this week indulged in the full gamut of royal-visit- coverage cliches and then, once they’d run dry, repeated those cliches.
Who would have thought we’d be so grateful for the midges and for Bono? If it weren’t for the little critters (the midges, not Bono – boom boom) then there really would have been little else to say about the Glendalough trip.
RTÉ did try. It informed us that the Obamas looked at some wild flowers. And, sure enough, they were shown looking at some flowers, accompanied by those familiar sounds of nature: the songs of birds in flight, the low whisper of the breeze through grass and the clatter of a couple of dozen camera shutters.
The midges saved the day, Sasha and Malia’s discomfort a small sacrifice to the gods of journalism. The uniformity of coverage on Tuesday, and in the delayed echo of Wednesday’s print coverage, was carried along by the sigh of relief that both midges and reporters had been given something to nibble on.
In Dalkey, coverage was reduced to the sight of the pub chef pinned against a wall in the hope that something juicy might be squeezed out of him.
Apart from that, there were digs at U2’s tax affairs and eyewitness accounts. What did Michelle say? What did she eat? What did she say while she ate? Did they enjoy themselves? Did they look happy? Did Bono look happy? Did we already ask you what they ate?
When Barack and Michelle Obama first came to Ireland it was as transformational figures, and they were greeted by a nation that appreciated them and, miraculously, even appropriated them as its own.
Even if Barack Obama increasingly appears to be a better idea of a president than an actual president, their 2011 visit will surely retain its delightful afterglow.
They trotted across the Moneygall street to greet crowds. They raised glasses. They charmed. They met the capital on College Green. Their visit was cut short by the Icelandic volcano, yet those few hours had a sense of magic.
This time the Obamas landed in Dublin with a thump and pushed sections of it aside, waved through by a city in thrall to their affability and optimism and the State’s deference to their power.
Gone in 60 seconds
A coda: on Wednesday, preceded by the wail of sirens, a Garda motorbike pulled up at the junction of the Liffey quays and Tara Street. It halted the traffic. More bikes followed. Then a small convoy of cars.
They passed and that original Garda motorbike ripped away, leaving the street to get on with its business. Gone in 60 seconds. That, Dublin, had been the Japanese prime minister.