Riches of Clare: Remembering Reagan's Visit

Clare Champion, Friday, February 21, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In this article, museum curator, John Rattigan, writes about a visit made by US President Ronald Reagan, to Ireland in 1984, where he was received by his Irish counterpart, Dr Patrick Hillery.

Dr Patrick Hillery served as President of Ireland from 1976-1990. One of the functions of the President is to receive foreign heads for state on behalf of the people of Ireland. Perhaps the most famous head of state President Hillery received was US President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, in June 1984.

Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois in February 1911, to an alcoholic father and a mother devoted to charitable endeavors. After graduating from Eureka College in 1932 with a degree in economics and sociology, he spent five years as a sports announcer. However, in 1937, a successful screen test saw him head off to Hollywood to begin a career in movies.

During the 1940's and 1950's Reagan made 53 movies, and was married briefly to actress Jane Wyman. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, on December 7, 1941, the US entered the Second World War. A patriotic Reagan put his acting abilities to good use, making training movies for the Army.

His interest in politics began in Hollywood. Initially a Democrat, he became president of the screen actors guild, and was often embroiled in disputes over the issue of communism in the film industry. He married for the second time in 1951, to New York actress Nancy Davis. By 1962, his political experiences in Hollywood had turned him into a fierce anti-Communist, and he joined the Republic Party. In 1966, with the backing of wealthy businessmen, Reagan was elected as Republican Governor of California by a winning margin of more than one million votes, and held this position until 1975.

He won the Republican Presidential Nomination in 1980, with George Bush as his running mate, and successfully defeated Jimmy Carter to become the 40th President of the United States. After only 69 days in office, he narrowly escaped death, when he was shot during an assassination attempt. However, his wit and courage during his recovery and a policy of federal tax cuts saw his popularity soar.

When Airforce 1, the presidential plane, touched down on Irish soil on June 1, 1984, to begin a four-day official visit, it was met at Shannon by President Hillery, the Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, members of the Government and elected members of Clare County Council. The first leg of a ten day visit to Europe, the trip would also include an economic summit meeting in London and ceremonies commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

In his speech at Shannon, Reagan described it as a "mission to strengthen ties of friendship and co-operation among the world's leading democracies". While on his official visit to Ireland, Reagan visited University College Galway, where he received an honorary degree, and spent some time in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, his ancestral home. He then travelled to Dublin where he met addressed Irish elected representatives at Dáil Éireann.

It was at an official luncheon to honour the Irish President at Deerfield, the residence of the US Ambassador to Ireland, in Dublin's Phoenix Park, that Reagan presented Dr Hillery with the paperweight pictured below. The Clare Museum building also possesses another additional link between Clare and the American President. Hanging on the wall of the Council Chamber is a framed and glazed letter from Ronald Reagan, dated 18 July, 1984. It is addressed to Johnny Maloney, Chairman of Clare County Council, thanking the local authority for the watercolour of the Cliffs of Moher presented to him at Shannon Airport.

Ronald Reagan served two terms as President of the United States, and upon the expiry of his second term in 1989, retired from public life. In 1994, in an open letter to the American public, he announced that he had recently been diagnosed as suffering from the degenerative brain disease Alzheimer's, which regettably has now progressed to an advanced state.

The legacy of Reagan's presidency can be seen in the world today. He began an economic boom in the US in the 1980's which had a profound impact on Ireland a decade later, while his "outspending" of the Soviet Union in the arms race, was ironically, a contributory factor in ending the Cold War.

View Ronald Reagan Paper Weight

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