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A dour Ireland cheers on Obama, for a moment

It is a really depressing time here in Ireland as the Celtic Tiger writhes in its death throes, but for one hour people cheered up, and cheered on the new president of the United States as he took his oath of office.

The ceremony was broadcast live on Irish national television, RTE. Because it was taking place at around 5 pm Irish time, office managers in Dublin allowed their staff to go home before the rush hour to watch it on television.

In fact there was no rush hour. Those who couldn't leave early crowded into bars and hotel lounges watching the event on television. About 200 people were invited into the circular atrium of the U.S. embassy in Dublin to enjoy the privilege of watching the event on American soil, amng them university lecturers, media personalities, senior Irish army officers and business executives.

As the guests gathered to sip white wine and nibble hors d’oeuvres there was much talk of how important the post-Bush presidency would be to a world that has become weary of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Dr. Tom Clonan, international security analyst for The Irish Times, summed it up for me, saying simply, “We all have a stake in Obama’s success.”

This sentiment was reflected in the enthusiastic reception for President Obama’s inauguration speech, which was relayed from a computer screen onto the concrete atrium wall, and especially in the spontaneous applause when the new president told viewers around the world, “We are willing to lead once more.”

Afterwards embassy staff played a karaoke version of Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys’ ‘There’s no one as Irish as Barak O’Bama’ on the screen, with a leprechaun bouncing along the words at the bottom. But nobody sang along. It wasn’t that sort of party and the mood left by the speech was more somber than merry.

The long-serving Bush-appointed U.S. ambassador, Tom Foley, was not there. He had gone to make way for his successor, leaving a rather puzzled nation with his thoughts on the Irish preference for white rather than black pepper. In a farewell message to Ireland, he wrote about how woanderful a time he had, but that he had one complaint. “The pepper in Ireland doesn’t smell right and someone really should do something about it. I suggest you pick a Tuesday later this year and have everyone switch from whatever you are using in your peper mills to regular black pepper corns. It may help with tourism.”

The only people who could not take time off to watch the inauguration were Ireland’s politicians; they were engaged in furious debate two miles away in the Irish parliament over the government’s decision to nationalize one of Ireland three big banks, Anglo Irish, leading to a collapse in the share price of the other two, AIB and Bank of Ireland, and fears for Ireland’s credibility in world markets.

The Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen did take time out however to issue a statement about President Obama’s inauguration, saying, "As we face the great challenges that confront us, his leadership will be central to global economic recovery and to the advancement of peace and justice. On behalf of the people of Ireland, I offer President Obama our warmest congratulations, best wishes and support." Cowen often appears in a rumpled suit and one result of the Obama presidency is that the new American president might encourage Irish politicians by example to dress more elegantly.

That at least is the hope of leading Dublin tailor Louis Copeland. By setting a high standard in sartorial elegance, he told The Irish Times, President Obama will be the best thing for the menswear trade in Ireland since John F Kennedy.

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