A city confers its freedom on the President

Alan Murdoch sees Bill and Hillary Clinton receive a rousing reception
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The Independent Online
US President Bill Clinton received a tumultuous reception from a huge crowd gathered in Dublin's city centre yesterday when he arrived at a rally where he received the freedom of the city of Dublin before giving the keynote address of his 24-hour visit to the Republic.

Some 100,000 people were jammed in to College Green, outside the old Irish parliament building, now the Bank of Ireland, and the surrounding streets.

Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary - who arrived an hour late for the event - waved repeatedly as they took their places behind a bullet-proof screen. After the charged euphoria of Londonderry, the welcome outside Trinity College was relaxed and festive.

Irish musicians warmed-up the young crowd before Mr Clinton appeared to a huge roar from the crowd, fanfares from the Army band, and a sea of Stars and Stripes before the freedom of the city was conferred on him. He joked of trying out its special privilege of tax-free status.

The President said he would have loved his mother - whose maiden name was Cassidy - to have seen the welcome, adding that she would also have enjoyed the fact that Ireland had almost 300 racing days.

His deftly crafted speech touched past and present, tragedy and success in the Irish experience. He recalled the westward voyage of refugees from Ireland's Great Famine 150 years ago, "when the crops rotted black in the ground" and claimed, through starvation or emigration, a quarter of the country's population.

"The famine explains the extraordinary generosity of Irish people," he said, noting their widespread aid to the Third World. "I know well that the immigration from your country to the shores of mine helped to make America great," he said.

"But I want more than anything for the young people of Ireland, wherever they live on this island, to be able to live out their dreams close to their roots in peace and honour and freedom and equality." Applauding the flowering of modern Irish culture, he said: "I believe if you want to grasp the global culture you need to come to Ireland". He cited James Joyce and Roddy Doyle, Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan, and the rock bands U2 and The Cranberries.

Moments, such as a pint of a dark, cool Irish drink in a pleasant old bar, were nevertheless replete with reminders of earlier past political earthquakes.

Mr Clinton went down the narrow Victorian passage of Amiens Street and Camden Street, once known to British soldiers as "The Dardanelles" because of the numbers of them shot there by Fenian snipers.

The evening state banquet in Dublin Castle's state rooms was served just yards from where, in November 1920, soldiers tortured and shot Irish prisoners in reprisals for the original Bloody Sunday.