The novelist Maeve Binchy finds joy on the streets of Dublin and hope in Irish hearts

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The Independent Online
There might not have been quite so many people in Dublin's College Green had we not seen the huge party that turned out for Bill Clinton in Belfast and Londonderry. The Dubs will not be outdone.

The rain lifted from the skies when Air Force One approached Dublin Airport and Ireland's most popular radio show hosted by Gay Byrne urged the listeners to go out and give the man a proper welcome. Stop complaining about the traffic restriction and the roads being closed off, stop bellyaching about the hundreds of secret service men in mackintoshes speaking into their wrists and peering through sunglasses for terrorists on the roofs of what we know to be perfectly blameless buildings. Go in there, show the man that we appreciate that he's doing something for peace.

The President met the leaders in the government Buildings while Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to an invited audience Irish women in Ireland's national Gallery.

Standing under the famous Daniel Maclise painting The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife the 12th century liaison that cemented the whole unfortunate and confused relationship between the two islands, the wife of the President of America urged the women of Ireland to be courageous in carrying out all the hopes and dreams of these days; the work of peace was too important to be left to the elected leaders.

And then it came to the bit that the people of Dublin could join in, the part where the President was made the 63d Freeman of Dublin City.

Standing in front of the magnificent building that once held the parliament of a united Ireland and Britain for a few short years at the end of the eighteenth century, Bill Clinton faced his public. There were thousands and thousands there, office workers on very long lunch-times, families from the suburbs who had brought children in by bus and train to see a bit of history. They said to each other that he was taller, and greyer and better looking than he looked on television.

He could have stayed for ever and ever, his face so familiar suddenly relocated in familiar streets.

But there were other things such as a pint of Guinness in Cassidy's pub, an address to both Houses of the Irish Parliament and a state banquet, so he couldn't stay all that long making jokes with Dubs and waving to their children.

Did they like him? Almost certainly and universally yes. The average Dubliner is cynical but not as they went home from the Friday afternoon in the fresh air.

A man taking his children home by the hand through the happy streets gave the man his due. He sees himself as a peacemaker, and don't we need those badly?

Maeve Binchy is a columnist for the Irish Times.

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