Miriam Lord: The people of Doonbeg aren’t forelock tuggers or cap doffers or eejits

Keeping small towns and villages alive is hard going – Trump’s hotel provides jobs

Donald Trump's sons, Don Jr. and Eric, visit some of the local pubs in Doonbeg as part of the US president's visit to Co Clare. Video: Simon Carswell

 

The post office in Doonbeg closed last October.

It didn’t command international attention or trouble the national headlines. But it was a big loss to the village. The older people would come in on pension day and there’d be a good buzz around the place.

Now, Friday is the same as any other day with most of the pubs staying closed until the evening time.

This is not a major story, just a familiar one in many small towns and villages around the country. Keeping these communities alive is hard going.

Doonbeg is lucky, though. And that’s down to the Trump hotel and Golf resort and the employment opportunities it has given to the local area.

When the TV satellite vans have moved out and the roaming herds of photographers and journalists have left for the next gig, the hotel will still be there, along with the jobs.

A tractor stops at a Garda checkpoint in Doonbeg in Co Clare during the visit of US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A tractor stops at a Garda checkpoint in Doonbeg in Co Clare during the visit of US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

So on Thursday, as villagers scrolled through their social media feeds and saw themselves labelled “gombeens” by people they never met, and restaurant owners found scathing reviews appearing on Tripadvisor from people who never visited, they laughed and got on with life in the same way they did before the president of the United States of America nearly came to town.

Doonbeg was in recovery following the big party the Wednesday night when Eric and Donál Óg Trump called into every pub to mark their father’s arrival in his eponymous hotel. They pulled pints (badly) and put on a good-humoured show for the crowd. They exaggerated the depth of love they believe Ireland and Doonbeg has for them and their father. They splashed the cash and called for drinks on the house, in every house they visited.

The local parish priest arrived on the scene and presented them with a painting. There were lots of flags.

Scenes from their exuberant progress from hostelry to hostelry upset an awful lot of people.

Tiny population

The population of Doonbeg is tiny. Fewer than 300 people. They aren’t forelock tuggers or cap doffers or eejits. The Trump brothers, Eric in particular, are not strangers to the village. Wednesday was not their first time in those pubs.

Strip out the journalists and news crews and the crowd welcoming them would have been small.

The village is adorned with some red white and blue bunting, and some of the green white and orange variety too. But it’s a bit sparse. There is the odd American flag about, but it isn’t hanging from the top window of houses and there aren’t any special signs welcoming Donald Trump to the neighbourhood.

But his company is a valued employer, people don’t speak ill of the Trump hotel business. Of course they would give the Trump boys a big welcome and there would have been one for president Trump too, had he materialised.

The appearance by the two lads fuelled speculation that they were sussing out the territory in advance of a visitation by their father. The happy images of people cheering them to the rafters as céilí dancers spun around in the street and pints of stout were flying out of the pubs would look well back home.

Now, if only it could be replicated for the president.

All day, Doonbeg was a town in suspense. Streets deserted, apart from hordes of media people and the same amount of Garda officers cooling their heels in the sunshine. Busloads of gardaí went up and down the Quilty Road, which was closed off to the public.

Hiding from CNN

All day, the photographers waited. They photographed a man driving a cart with shire horses. They photographed a garda petting the horses. They photographed any publican they could find.

We went in to talk to one landlord who wasn’t keen to come to the door. “I’m trying to hide from CNN. They have me persecuted.”

Then a man wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap materialised in Tubridy’s bar to the immense relief of the journalists who dutifully recorded his utterances. “I absolutely love Trump,” he declared. And so on, and on.

And a Mayo native from Boston appeared who is “an original member of the club” and who, on Wednesday night “met the whole crowd” in the hotel. Except Donald.

Back at the small café, sticks of Doonbeg rock were snapped up by visitors – a euro each, six for a fiver.

A local told us that some of the Garda sub-aqua team treated a few of their land based colleagues to a trip in the rib out into Doughmore Bay. But the water was a bit choppy. “The lads were sick as dogs.”

US president Donald Trump seated beside his wife Melania and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the restaurant at his hotel and golf resort in Doonbeg on Thursday evening. Photograph: Stephen Kearon
US president Donald Trump seated beside his wife Melania and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the restaurant at his hotel and golf resort in Doonbeg on Thursday evening. Photograph: Stephen Kearon

As the hours slowly passed it was beginning to look like this would be the greatest danger the gardaí would find themselves in during Trump’s visit. A large communications mast attached to a cherry-picker was stationed at the entrance to the village with a very bored man wearing a laminated ID minding it.

The last number of weeks have been a triumph of marketing for the Trump brand, but Doonbeg sur Diageo is a marketing haven for Guinness. Every outside wall is emblazoned with the firm’s retro livery.

Visitation

And still, everyone waited and wondered if there might yet be A Visitation. The Garda Public Order unit did a few sweeps of the Main Street. Secret service operatives were spotted in around the back of Tubridy’s pub while a clatter of them were seen entering Morrissey’s bar and restaurant.

They only went in to have their dinner.

The proprietor, Hugh McNally, had a pristine tricolour folded up and resting on a chair in reception. His dog Pepper – she rules the roost – was away being spoiled at another location. Was this a sign?

In the pub, RTÉ’s Brian O’Donovan did his thing from the picturesque riverbank beside Morrissey’s. The room fell silent when he mentioned speculation mounting over a Visitation. But then again, it could be “fake news”. Everyone cheered.

A photograph was tweeted showing Trump eating his dinner in his hotel restaurant with the 18 green in the background and the tomato sauce in the foreground.

Back in the village, hopes were beginning to fade.

Local man Brian Heppell – twenty years in the place, married a woman whose father was from Kilrush but she “ran away with the lead singer of a band” – was not particularly interested in seeing Donald Trump, should he visit.

“I’ll think about it and see how I feel – depends on the weather.”

Brian is originally from Windsor in the UK and recalled seeing a Royal procession many years ago.

“Everyone was peering into this Rolls Royce when it passed. And it turned out to be the Queen mother. We got an absolutely glorious smile and wave from her. It was absolutely genuine and I’ll never forget it. Now, if Donald waved to me, I don’t thing it would have quite the same effect.”

The hotel is a good thing for Doonbeg, he says. Only for it, young people who are now living locally would be rearing their families in America or Australia.

The photographers stuck it out, but it looked like the most famous person to visit the village (and be universally loved there) continues to be the tremendously tremendous Marty Morrissey.