Smiling and waving, George Bush glided down the steps of Air Force One at Shannon airport last night, seemingly unfazed by his tag as the most unwelcome American ever to set foot on Irish soil.
The president and his wife, Laura, were spared the sight of thousands of Irish protesters at the airport entrance and whisked off in an armoured Cadillac to the 16th century Dromoland castle in County Clare. Mr Bush enjoyed a rather military-looking walk around the expansive grounds with the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, but was expected to retire early to his £900-a night presidential suite, which the castle promotes as the authentic "landed gentry" experience.
Anti-U.S. President George W. Bush visit protesters march towards Dromoland Castle on the main road were U.S. President George W. Bush is holding US-EU summit with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Ireland, June 26, 2004. REUTERS/Paul McErlane
The president will use today's US-EU summit to try to heal the transatlantic rifts over Iraq before the Nato summit in Turkey.
Pretzels are off the menu at his working lunch with European statesmen. Only the finest Irish seafood and lamb will grace the table as the conversation turns to the Middle East and famine in Sudan. The French wine-list will serve as a reminder of the difficult task at hand.
But what Mr Bush has been choking on recently is the gristle of the Irish media. Expecting nothing more than a gentle probing from a friendly state which America "helped" to prosper, he gave the first White House interview to an Irish journalist for 20 years. But the state broadcaster RTE subjected him to a grilling which left him fuming and had media commentators and licence-payers debating the Irish style of journalism.
The interview was intended as a cordial start to the president's first visit to the Irish Republic. Some claim the summit was tailored to give Mr Bush a pre-election media-opportunity for the 50 million or so Irish folk back home.
But RTE's Washington correspondent, Carole Coleman, was not about to let Mr Bush off the hook. In an interview broadcast on television and a radio breakfast show she persisted with questions about dead US soldiers, torture, the issue of making the world a more dangerous place, and being disliked.
"I don't really try to chase popularity polls," the president said.
After Irish churchmen queried the president's morals this week, there was also an inevitable question about his devotion to the Lord.
"I get great substance from my personal relationship [with God]," he said. "That doesn't make me think I'm a better person than you are, by the way, because one of the great admonitions in the good book is, 'Don't try to take a speck out of your eye if I got a log in my own'."
Mr Ahern's fashion sense will ensure that he gets the coverage he requires. Once known as anorak-man, the prime minister hogged much media time by his recent appearance in a garish pair of canary-yellow trousers at the G8 summit that the issue was raised in the Irish parliament.
A protester takes a photo with her mobile phone at a peace camp, just outside Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland on Friday June 25 2004 where protesters gathered to protest against the visit US President George W. Bush, who was arriving in Ireland later in the day on his way to a NATO summit in Turkey. (Haydn West/PA)
The visit was accompanied by the inevitable anti-Bush demonstrations in Shannon, Dublin and several other cities. Three protesters, including Edward Horgan, a leading peace activist and former officer in the Irish army, were arrested on board a boat on the River Shannon yesterday afternoon.
Radio phone-in shows - the barometer of Irish life - have been flooded with anti-Bush callers. One of the loudest pro-Bush voices was that of a former US diplomat, George Dempsey, who said Ireland should be welcoming Mr Bush by waving American flags but instead had been poisoned by media bias.
He said the foreign policy debate in Ireland was "dominated by a self-justifying leftist fixation on the US". He had written a book dissecting the "vicious misrepresentation" in the Irish media.
The one person who did not seem to need advice on dealing with Irish resentment was the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who travelled with the president and Colin Powell.
She said she was aware the president would be greeted by protesters but the Irish should remember that the right to protest was a part of democracy once denied to Iraqis.
Irish demonstrators were resolute. "No red carpet for killer Bush," said a placard in a hedgerow.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004