May 29, 2019
By Padraic Halpin
DOONBEG, Ireland (Reuters) – In a small corner of Ireland’s west coast Donald Trump means jobs. And the locals are getting ready to line the street with the Stars and Stripes to express their gratitude when he visits next week.
Like in Britain, where Trump has been promised demonstrations on his first European stop, a number of Irish groups have called on people to protest against the president’s policies on issues such as immigration and climate change.
But in Doonbeg, where residents credit Trump with securing their livelihoods when he bought the nearby golf resort five years ago, the tiny village is being decked out in American flags and bunting in advance of his visit.
“There are over 300 employed here because of him, what else is around here?” Joe Pender said, as he and fellow locals Tommy Haugh and Danny Buckley were hanging flags from every lamppost in the one-street village.
“If we didn’t have the hotel, we’d have nothing here. It’d be a ghost town.”
Trump is expected to stay in his hotel for at least one night on June 5 in between visits to Britain and France, with security already stepped up in the area.
Pender, 60, remembers feeding cattle in the green fields where the Greg Norman-designed golf course was built in 2002 during Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” boom years, promising to transform the local area.
He worked for the previous owners who placed the resort into receivership when Ireland’s boom turned to a spectacular bust a decade ago and unemployment in the region rocketed above 16 percent.
Trump, like many foreign investors, saw a potential bargain in Ireland and reaped the benefits as the economy grew faster than any other in Europe for five straight years, unemployment fell back below 5 percent and record numbers of tourists flocked to spots like Doonbeg, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
“Nobody is perfect but if any place had what we had, they’d be on top of the world. He’s put bread and butter on the table,” said local priest Father Joe Haugh who, at the age of 87, still enjoys a round of golf – free of charge.
It is a top class course, according to Haugh, who is also flying an American flag outside his church for the visit.
SOLD OUT OF FLAGS
But while Barack Obama was met by cheering crowds and struck public relations gold by sharing a Guinness with a distant cousin during the last presidential visit to Ireland in 2011, Trump should not expect a similar reception outside Doonbeg.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar opposed extending an invitation to Trump as a cabinet minister before changing his mind. He will meet the president at Shannon Airport, where a previous ministerial colleague was criticized by opposition politicians for greeting Trump on a red carpet on his last visit, as an investor, in 2014, before he was elected president.
Trump’s fans in Doonbeg are aware that he is a divisive figure, but it is still very difficult to find any among its population of 200 who will say a bad word against him.
“He has his own past but we didn’t elect the man. If our president went abroad and wasn’t welcomed, we’d be very upset. It’s courtesy,” said Ita Comerford, whose family have lived in the village for four generations.
Michael and Theresa McDermott, whose idyllic house overlooks the golf course, are in the security “red zone” and while they have identity passes to come and go next week, the one thing they cannot find is a U.S. flag. The local shop is sold out.
With a night of Irish dancing and entertainment planned in the village while Trump is in town, local restaurant owner and publican Tommy Tubridy has been perfecting his Guinness pours, using careful tap skills to create the letters “T-R-U-M-P” in the creamy foam of the pint, just in case they get a visit.
“He’s a man that pulls a lot of surprises so you’d never know, he could pop down,” said Tubridy, who credits the hotel with keeping Doonbeg’s five pubs in business and even bringing home some of its emigrants hopeful of getting work again.
“He’s a non drinker though so he’d probably have a glass of the local spring water and that’d be grand.”
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alison Williams)