In a tiny village in southwest Ireland, Trump will always be president

In Doonbeg, County Clare—a village that might have succumbed to ruin—new and old businesses thrive, thanks to Trump Hotels

May 15, 2024
Trump about to leave Doonbeg in Marine One. Image: 2020 Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Trump about to leave Doonbeg in Marine One. Image: 2020 Images / Alamy Stock Photo

“President or prisoner?” That is the news headline the morning I travel to Doonbeg, a small, southwesterly Irish village that counts former US President Donald Trump as an ally. Surrounded by farmland and coast, Doonbeg—with a population of 279, according to the 2022 census—beams on a sunny Friday morning, as dozens of golfers unload their clubs at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel. Here, Hamptons-style interiors, in muted tones of cream and beige, frame the golf shop where Maga (Make America Great Again) baseball caps are sold and pictures of the Trump family hang on panelled walls. If you were to read one of the papers in the hotel’s bar, you might see the owner of this establishment on the front page under headlines with words like “hush-money” and “coup”. But it quickly becomes clear that a different appreciation for Trump exists here. “He’s actually lovely,” the young woman serving me tea declares. “He was here in May and took pictures with everyone.” “He’s here often enough,” a groundskeeper says, smiling. “But I don’t think he has the time at the moment.”

Doonbeg was first connected with Trump back in 2014 when Trump Hotels purchased the Links Golf. Trump, or more precisely TIGL Ireland Enterprises Ltd, is the business’s fourth owner. According to figures released by TIGL Ireland Enterprises Ltd, 2022 was the company’s best year yet, with operating profits increasing by 83 per cent to nearly €1 million. Revenues also reportedly more than doubled in the same year. This investment naturally trickles into the adjoining village, causing roads to be paved, local businesses to thrive and broadband—which has been deficient in rural Ireland—to work at high speed. “The village has thrived,” a woman who works in the parish office, yet doesn’t want to be named, says. “There is no doubt about it: since he took over the golf club, the village has thrived.”

As I drive around, I can’t help but notice that the roads—in an area predominantly used as farmland—are smooth and devoid of potholes. The businesses in the area, too, are busy and freshly painted, a far cry from the rural villages in Ireland whose small centres never survived the 2008 recession. “That’s all because of the golf club,” Tommy Tubridy, the owner of Tubridy’s Bar and Restaurant in Doonbeg says. “Since the Trump family has taken over the golf club, the town has gone from strength to strength.” Tubridy is warm, welcoming and grandfatherly. His establishment, situated on the town’s main street, is a family business, running since 1777. Photos of previous punters, including Coleen Rooney and Stereophonic, who have come by way of the golf club, line the walls. “They [Trump Hotels] have invested millions in the resort, and all that investment has created jobs, which is the most important thing in rural Ireland,” Tubridy says. “If we didn’t have that, we would be like other small communities or parishes in the west of Ireland, in that wed be suffering as well. Investment does wonders. There are a couple hundred people employed by the golf club, yes, but it’s the spin-off that’s marvellous.

“He runs a shuttle service from the golf club into town at night so guests can go into local restaurants and pubs, even though there is a restaurant and bar on-site. If you want to eat or drink in town, you call the bus and it drops and collects you. Does any other hotel in Ireland do that?” 

Image: Kate Demolder Image: Kate Demolder

Rita McInerney, a local shopkeeper and local councillor for Fianna Fáil, Ireland’s Republican party, also insists that Trump’s contribution to the town is a lifeline and politics shouldn’t take away from that. “People need to understand that, for years, Doonbeg was decimated by emigration, and lack of jobs. The golf club brings visitors from all over the world, businesspeople, weddings and employment. Weddings there also get supplied locally. And those suppliers are not going to turn down that business because of the Trump name. They’re a business in the community like any other,” she says. “And like, no one questions my politics in my business, so why would anyone question his? Especially when his business has put half of West Clare through college. Do I agree with his politics? No. But we have to separate that from what he’s done for the community.”

According to Tubridy and McInerney, Doonbeg is an anomaly in the rural west, in that it’s seeing young people return and the local population rise (albeit slowly); Doonbeg’s population has risen from 262 to 279 since the last census in 2016, the neighbouring town of Kilmihil is up from 434 to 472, too, and the larger town of Kilkee is up from 972 to 1,214. “People are coming home from England and Australia to live here because the facilities are here,” Tubridy says. “People are setting up businesses, and it’s actually becoming hard to buy a house here now because so many people are coming back.” 

Of course, proximity to the US feels closer in Doonbeg. Not just because of the village’s edges nearing the Atlantic Ocean, but because of nearby Shannon Airport’s long history with the US military. In the aftermath of the 11th September attacks, the Irish government offered the use of Shannon to the US government, and it’s still using it. According to Shannonwatch, a website that routinely logs military-related aircraft landing at Shannon, over three million troops have passed through Shannon since 2002. For a neutral country, this link is tenuous and complicated, and it has provoked demonstrations by residents opposed to the actions of the US military. This, it seems, is not dissimilar to Doonbeg’s plight. Locals, of course, feel uneasy about Trump’s association with the town. A typically liberal stronghold in recent decades—Dr Mossajee Bhamjee, Ireland’s first Muslim TD, was elected as a Labour deputy for Clare in 1992; the county also voted to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion in 2015 and 2018–the link feels tenuous; enough to have most locals deny an interview or only provide one anonymously. This feels grating when reckoned with the obvious growth Doonbeg has experienced since Trump’s namesake moved in. Can we separate business from the businessman? Perhaps not, quite. As a local who did not want to be named tells me: “What he’s done is absolutely great… but keep my name out of it.”