NOTE: With Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17, here is an update from John O’Mahony, editor of “Killarney Today.”
There is seldom a stampede to the doors of busy newsrooms when the shout goes up for volunteers to cover events, as they happen, at monthly meetings of Kerry County Council, the 33-member local authority for Kerry County, Ireland.
Few opportunities are featured on the dour and mundane but lengthy agendas that might provide opportunity for an eventual Pulitzer Prize nomination.
Politically, the bill of fair is more side street café table d’hôte than Michelin star a la carte: potholes that need filling, bends that need straightening, flower beds that need watering, grass that needs trimming and traffic lights that need fixing.
Occasionally, excitement can reach fever pitch when, for example, a row over the location for a new cemetery is being discussed, offering the possibility of a ‘Kerry’s grave dilemma’ headline.
But along comes big Donald Trump and, suddenly, heads pop up and the mere possibility of a mention of America’s new first citizen at a council meeting had reporters, some seasoned, many novice, frantically competing for a seat on the press bench before the ‘No room at the Inn’ sign was exhibited for the first time in a long time.
There was an occasion when a president in Washington and a pope in Rome competed for attention as any wall space became available in family homes in the Emerald Isle. JFK and Pope Paul VI were the pin-ups of the day. Now, in the County of Kerry at least, President Trump and Pope Francis are back in big demand when it comes to topping the invitation list to visit a rapidly changed Mother Ireland.
It all started with a proposal from Councillor Bobby O’Connell – a member of the governing Fine Gael party – who suggested Pope Francis be issued with an official invitation to Kerry where, despite an alarming fall-off in the numbers attending mass, there should still be sufficient support to fill a football field with devout, faithful followers.
But, not to be outdone, Councillor Tom McEllistrim, a member of main opposition party, Fianna Fail, suggested that an invitation should also be sent to The Donald, who would surely enjoy playing around – sorry, playing a round – on one of the fabulous area golf courses.
Councillor McEllistrim said he believed such a visit would do for Kerry what John F. Kennedy’s visit did for New Ross, what Ronald Regan did for Ballyporeen and what Barack Obama’s visit to Moneygall did for the County Offaly town.
He insisted: “The publicity it would get would put Kerry on the map and also from a tourism point of view, it would enhance our tourist numbers.”
Councillor McEllistrim added: “The priority is Kerry and it’s from a Kerry perspective I’m putting down the motion and I think it would be good for business, jobs and tourism and it would also be good for the undocumented Irish in America.”
But the Trump invitation left some elected members horrified and bamboozled and while many maintained a dignified silence – not forgetting that Kerry is a tourism county that relies on American visitors – at least one voiced vehement opposition, citing Trump’s attitude to women as disgraceful.
County Councillor eventually, albeit reluctantly, backed a proposal to invite Trump to Kerry, but added an amendment calling for correct protocol to be adhered to and insisted the matter should first be referred to the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
The amendment also asked that the council first ascertained Mr. Trump’s policy towards the undocumented Irish – an emotive matter that affects thousands of families in this country.
Mayor of Kerry, Michael O’Shea – who is currently on an official visit to New York and Boston for St Patrick’s Day – raised a chuckle when he observed: “Between Donald Trump and the Pope, we are going to have our hands full.”
Incidentally, one of President Trump’s senior management team in his hotel chain just happens to be from Ireland’s premier tourist town of Killarney. He is on record as saying that if his boss does lay his considerable head on a Kerry pillow, it will be after a feed of bacon and cabbage cooked by his mother in Kerry.