A lot has been said and written about the visit of Michelle Obama and her daughters to Ireland this past week. We had a particular interest because of our proximity here to Finnegan’s pub where #FLOTUS ( the Secret Service acronym for First Lady Of The United States while traveling) and her girls had lunch with the Hewson family. Of course, the whole lunch could have taken place in the privacy of Bono’s home, but he wanted to share with his guests the experience of a good Irish pub lunch in his favourite local, and fair play to him for doing so.
In an effort to create the buzz of a typical lunchtime, within the strict security parameters that surround #FLOTUS, the Finnegan’s invited in many of their regular customers, us included, to be in the pub that morning. Not, as has been rather surprisingly suggested elsewhere, “big-wigs” but the people you see there on any given day. Familiar Dalkey names like Sheeran, McCabe, Sheehan, Snell and lots of other people, young and old, who make up a fair proportion of Finnegan’s regulars. Of course, the local Chief Superintendent was there along with a local TD – but in the main, the guests that day were all friends. The Secret Service agent in charge asked Donal with incredulity “Who are all these people”…when he saw the steady stream of guests being body scanned at the entrance that morning, along with the very many who queued but were turned away. “They’re friends” was Donal’s reply “I know every one of them”. The Secret Service agent could only ask “Who has that many friends?”. I’m guessing it was his first visit to Ireland, or else he would know the answer to that.
As for it being a “lock-in”, well that’s also not quite true. I did hear one lady demand to be allowed to leave, but that was because she was a bit vexed at being asked to move back and not push out towards the area where #FLOTUS was departing. The very polite Garda (plain clothes) told her she was free to leave anytime she wanted – she just had to use the same door she came in by. In fact anyone could leave at any time, if they wanted to, but nobody did.
It was more a lock-out than a lock-in, and despite the feigned disinterest of the media in the proceedings, the rush for the door as the cavalcade swept up Castle Street can only be described as a stampede. As I tried to head out the door that #FLOTUS had exited minutes earlier, I was met with a crush of journalists wielding their branded mics and I had to retreat. Today FM, Newstalk and TV3 all got in ahead of RTE and the breathy interviewers pounced on Peter, Alan and Donal Finnegan for the DETAILS!!!!
A fair amount of tweeting and FaceBooking went on from inside the pub, but not as much as you would expect because, quite simply, it wasn’t the typical social media tribe who were in there. My pics weren’t great – you can see what I tweeted here, if you enjoy the feeling of watching paint dry – but I did get a pic from Dominic Hearns who had a great vantage point throughout the proceedings. It was of one of the Finnegan children doing a ‘selfie’ with Michelle Obama (above), which I thought was hilarious. I imagine that Malia and Sacha Obama would have liked to engage in this type of typical teen behavior too during their visit – but I expect they don’t have smart phones or Instagram accounts. Still, couldn’t you just see it “Me with #bookofkells in #hogwarts or some place #whatevs….” or “OMG the #bugs are killing me #momwhydidyoumakemedothis! #eatenalive”
The scramble for photos was hilarious too – scores of smart phones poised for that winning image – the one everyone wanted of Michelle and Bono. Dominic did also get the most widely published photo of the proceedings (right) and he kindly shared it by text within the pub but alas, his image was tweeted and improperly credited, which is a great pity.
The real memento image of the day was the one Bono wanted of the two families together and the #FLOTUS staff photographer duly obliged. Barry stood by while this picture was taken (he doesn’t do ‘invasion of privacy’) but one of the Secret Service guys leapt forward and said “Sir, we have to take you out…” GULP! Happily, Barry wasn’t ‘taken out’ and he got to photograph Michelle, Dan and Colleen together, which was the picture they really wanted.
Of course, the only people who came anywhere near the group while they dined were her personal staff including her photographer, Secret Service and the wait staff of Finnegan’s. And only the Finnegan family and Gordon Snell were introduced. If you hear anything else, well take it with a large pinch of salt. The rest of us were providing the buzz and atmosphere for which Irish pubs are famous and we did our job with gusto and with the benefit of a free bar*.
There are lots of stories and anecdotes from the day – the lead up, the back story, the “Jaysus, the Hollandaise has curdled…” story, the “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you…” stories and most embarrassingly, the “Shit, where’s #FLOTUS’ handbag gone…” story. None of those details can be fully recounted here, you’ll have to come out to Dalkey for that.
(* mine was a soda water and lime throughout, honest.)