The secret service was spotted lurking around the street of Moneygall months ahead of the visit. Secret negotiations were held, cameras were fitted, wires were tapped. In preparation for the visit 2,000 Irish police would be sent to ring the village entirely, so no one could enter or exit from anywhere. Snipers would be placed in the fields overlooking the village and a local farmer accidentally stood on one he was so well hidden. A rocket launcher had been placed on a hillside nearby, though in truth, I never authenticated that story.
There was an advance rehearsal which went as far as landing the Presidents helicopter, or a double of some sort, in the local Football field to see if it was safe, I tried to film that but was told to feck off by the Gardai. I went up in the hills overlooking to get the shot and the helicopter must have spotted me because it came up right above me and hovered. The wind nearly blew my tripod over and I saw a flash of someone in the chopper taking a picture of me. Wary of being banned from the big day itself or even the victim of an overzealous gunner with his hand on the hellfire button I got into my car and zoomed off, only to see in the rear view mirror that the chopper was following me. I took it handy, put some loud Jimmy Hendix CD I was listening to on to act as the soundtrack to the James Bond style movie I had found myself in. In truth I was very grateful to make it to Ollie’s bar where I needed a pint to calm my nerves and recount my tale to the afternoon few.
A meeting had been organised to discuss a situation that had arisen in the town that needed to be sorted out quick and thankfully they allowed me film it. Things were getting trickier to film as the local politicians got involved and the Irish Government eventually made its lofty presence known. What needed to be discussed was who was going to be able to get to meet the President when he did arrive . Who was going to be able to even be in the village that day as really no more than a few hundred can line the street yet word had it that many people from all over were making plans to be in Moneygall on the day to catch a glimpse of the big man or even catch a kiss from the first Lady.
Local politicians and some not so local began to book places for themselves and their entourages and soon, if things kept going like that there would be no room for the villagers themselves. The Americans had made it known that no-one would be allowed to stand at the windows of the first floor of their homes and every house would have to be emptied and searched with sniffer dogs and detectors.
After much debate about where the boundary of the village actually lay it was decided that invites would be issued to all the villagers and relevant politicians and the rest would be divvied out by lottery. Literally golden tickets were issued to successful applicants. Other things that needed to be discussed were the mounting pressure the village was coming under from all kinds of places. Paddy Power the gambling house was trying to persuade Henry to get the President place a bet on himself getting re-elected for a second term, promising thousands of much needed moolah to the village in return. The village was offered new street lighting by street lighting companies, Dulux wanted to paint the entire village with Dulux paints, Crown paints got upset. Bands wanted to perform, Guinness wanted to sponsor everything, as long as they got their shot of himself with a pint of Black, and the town was beset by charlatans and fakers of an amazing hue and spectrum. Henry and the town elders batted them all off and successfully kept the honour of the village intact. They even offered invites to members of a neighbouring village that had been put out because their claim (which was valid) of having a closer link to Fulmouth Kearney and therefore the President, than Moneygall, had been roundly ignored by everybody. They were right, the citizens of Toomevara but they were too slow and they had no Henry to fight their cause.
Two days before his arrival and the town was on a high. Henry’s friend who had opened up a temporary printing shop was printing up all manner of hunourous O’Bama T-shirts as fast as his machine could work, people were trying to sell the Obama craft beers they had brewed and another villager raced to finish his Obama café to have it open on time but he hadn’t even started plastering the outside. The sun shone and the entire village was out cleaning and painting, cutting hedges and grass. Dulux had managed to paint the town and it looked stunning. The finishing touches were being put on the small cottage in the centre of the street that was Fulmouth's pace of residence. Not many know that before it had been dolled up in old Oirish heritage gear a ‘Lady of the night’ from Tullamore had been lodging there and had to be convinced to leave with apparently a rather large enticement. Estranged family members were returning home to Moneygall and the pubs were fuller than they had ever been before.
Julia struggled to keep up with her newfound popularity and drafted in extra help, but she was in her element. Rumour had reached her that the President would enter her pub for a drink too, that it had been written in the papers that her pub was ‘fit for a President. ’ Indeed it was, the President never made it but Julia knows that her bar was fit for more than just a President, it was fit for a true Queen like herself. She used to slip a little bottle of whiskey into my pocket when I was finished filming and heading home. I think now the bar has closed it’s doors and it will be sorely missed.
I entered the throng in Ollie’s bar, remembering how quiet it was when I first entered. Now I looked around and I’m not kidding when I say this; there was a fantastic trad band in one corner that had been in the village and been drinking heavily for the last week non stop, their Accordion player looked so sick it seemed as if he wouldn’t last until the big day. There was an African drumming band that had arrived and was wowing the little old ladies in the back bar. There were secret service men in the bar that would occasionally speak into their sleeves. There was the disgraced corrupt Irish politician Michael Lowry, somehow forgiven for the day by the locals. There was Patrick Bergin the Irish American Robin hood sitting at the bar pissed out of his skull woefully trying to accompany the trad music with a bodhrain. Surreal is not the word.
The day before his arrival I myself still had no permission to film, nor even permission to be in the Village. My attempts with the Press pass people in Dublin had not been addressed and I met someone from the staff of the Irish department of foreign affairs who confidently and somewhat chirpily informed that I wouldn’t have a chance in Hell of getting anywhere near the President. Even Henry couldn’t help me this time. I knew only one thing. No one was going to stop me filming the climax of a film that I started alone nearly five years previously. That was just not an option. I heard that the village would be emptied of people whilst every house was searched and everyone would have to pass through a metal detector to get back in. I hid my camera equipment in a hay barn behind Henry’s house. I left the rest in the lap of the Gods.
The day of his arrival Ray Darcy from Radio whatever had set up studio in the T-shirt printing shop. I strolled past police lines waving at a cop I had acquainted myself with. It was still early morning so they weren’t yet checking press passes and he assumed I had one since he had seen me with cameras. Later, when I retrieved my camera from the barn a cop did try to ask me but I gestured that I had no time to talk to him now and that I had to go away urgently and stepped inside Ray Darcy’s radio studio who was broadcasting live, the cop let me be and Ray let me hide for a while. I stayed there whilst the village was emptied and searched. I mingled with the crowd as they trickled back in and waited. And I waited and waited, through the rain and the hail and the sun. I was so squeezed by the crowd and the fencing that I could hardly breathe. My claustrophobia began to gnaw and I began to hate a teenage girl in front of me who wouldn’t remove her elbow from my groin, as she didn’t want to lose any space. It was incredibly difficult to film.
The steam rising from me after being soaked fogged my lens badly and the heat of the crowd plus fatigue and my own excess finally settled on me. So much did it settle on me that when an American official approached me to enquire as to whether I was filming for myself or for the media I didn’t know how to answer correctly and just managed to mumble something sufficiently incoherent as to be left be, with a pitying smile. When the President arrived and finally stood before me and I reached him my hand to shake his, whilst I filmed withmy mini rocket launcher lookalike in my other, all that went through my head was Travis Bickle. It could have been me. I
He had his pint, the politicians wet themselves, Henry’s mum got a kiss as did many babies and off he went in his Chopper after just 25 minutes in the village. After taking a nap somewhere I hopped in my car for home, I hadn’t been for weeks. I put on Jimmy Hendrix extra loud and remember that I noticed after a while that tears were streaming down my face. I let them come. Mission accomplished.