'We're about to come of age as a country'
When the swing state of Pennsylvania went for Obama, Americans abroad watching the results in Dublin became ecstatic, writes Carl O'Brien
THOUSANDS OF miles away from it all, in a bar in Dublin city centre, Democrats dared to believe the early poll results flashing up on the giant television screen in the corner.
"I think we're about to come of age as a country," said Mary Kay Simmons, the organiser of the Democrats Abroad election night, her voice quivering with emotion.
"We're putting into the White House a president who is brilliant, thoughtful, caring and strong. He's going to be the first great president since JFK. You know, I used to be proud to be an American many years ago - but now I feel proud once again."
There were countless other moments of joy, elation and ecstasy among displaced Democrats gathered in Café en Seine and across the capital early yesterday.
As the states on the big screen slowly began to turn blue, they jumped from their seats, hugging, beginning to believe. And when the television networks called the swing state of Pennsylvania in favour of Obama, the crowd became delirious.
Jim Coffey (80) from Chicago, whose son worked on Obama's campaign team long before he became a presidential contender, cut a composed figure amid the madness. Inside, he said, he felt euphoric.
"In 1960 I wasn't sure about JFK until I saw him speak in person," he said. "And I've really warmed to Obama as well. Everyone I know at home who either knows him or has worked with him is so admiring of him. To see such large turnouts and to see such a reaction is something I thought I'd never see again."
Over at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, more than 1,000 people gathered to watch the results unfold at an event organised by US ambassador Thomas C. Foley.
Barely a handful of Republicans were in evidence, sporting miniature John McCain badges, compared to the hundreds of Democrats decked out with Obama T-shirts, hats and flags.
Ambassador Foley - a college friend of President Bush - seemed to acknowledge that the game was up early on.
"I knew that Barack Obama was going to pose a serious challenge when I saw he had an opinion piece in The Irish Times earlier this year," he joked.
Meanwhile, he said, most of his Republican friends had sought refuge at home rather than enter what seemed like a lion's den of celebrating Democratic supporters.
Among the many flag-waving Democrats was John Thompson of Bangor, Maine, a physics teacher at the Dublin Institute of Technology and a father of two.
"We've snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so many times before, but this is looking good," said Thompson, whose jacket was festooned with Obama badges.
"This is truly historic - but what really impresses me is that race doesn't seem to be an issue. There's talk of the Bradley effect, but I don't see it at all. It's just amazing to see how far we've come - and I'm very proud of that tonight."
As the night wore on, and as the Guinness flowed freely, the cautious optimism gave way to a wave of euphoria. Obama was sweeping up electoral college votes across the country. And the life-sized cardboard cut-out of the candidate was getting increasingly dog-eared from party-goers scrambling to get their photo taken with it.
Dozens of politicians and Government Ministers - including Micheál Martin, Mary Hanafin, Eamon Ryan and Dick Roche - were getting into the party mood. Mr Justice Paul Carney of the High Court, wearing a fetching stars and stripes tie, blue shirt and striped jacket, was in celebratory mode too, although he wouldn't say who he was supporting.
Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, an avid self-confessed Barack Obama supporter, talked about the night as a major turning point in US history.
Back at Café en Seine, people like Maura Cooney and her friends felt the emotion of the occasion wash over themselves.
"I'm so happy that I was able to vote and play a small part in this historic day," said Cooney, a returned emigrant, originally from Kilnamartyra, Co Cork, who lived in Boston for 18 years.
"I wanted to see a woman become president, but it wasn't to be. But to have the first African-American president is hugely important. This is great for the world and great for America."
For New Yorker and lifelong Democrat Mary Kay Simmons, the night felt like the dawn of a new era.
"I watched in tears when the bombs fell on Iraq. I feel we've been disgraced as a nation because of the administration. We have nothing to show as a result of George Bush's administration - except the terrible mess we're in," she said.
"But I'm filled with hope for the future now. There will be challenges ahead, of course, but there is so much to he hopeful for."