Make West Clare great again: Doonbeg draws the line between business and politics with Trump

Make West Clare Great Again: Doonbeg Draws The Line Between Business And Politics With Trump Make West Clare Great Again: Doonbeg Draws The Line Between Business And Politics With Trump
The rural village was again cast into the spotlight following news of a planned, but since cancelled, visit by former US president Donald Trump to his golf resort. Photo: PA Images
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Muireann Duffy

Co Clare is no stranger to famous faces, but right up there among the Banner’s more controversial visitors is former US president Donald Trump.

But well before Trump vowed to ‘Make America Great Again’, he set his sights on a hotel and golf links just outside the rural village of Doonbeg in West Clare – and who were the locals to know what their newest villager would become.

Local business owner Rita McInerney recalls the abuse pointed at her community when Trump visited in June 2019, criticised for rolling out the red carpet for the then-POTUS.

But the Doonbeg resident, who ran for Fianna Fáil in the 2020 General Election, points out that for the village, Trump is first and foremost a businessman, adding: “You don’t always agree with the people you do business with.”


A view of Trump International Hotel and Golf Links in Doonbeg, Co Clare.

Separating Trump from his politics seems almost impossible at this point, but when he took the reins of the now ‘Trump International Hotel and Golf Links’ locals say he made the necessary investment to keep West Clare’s biggest summertime employer on its feet.

In the high season, Trump International employs around 300 staff members, falling to about 100 during the winter.

McInerney stresses that local employment is the bedrock of keeping rural communities alive.

In Doonbeg, giving people the option to remain in the area keeps their local traditions alive too – keeping footballers on the pitch and actors on the stage.

Pre-Trump era

As McInerney puts it, “it’s not like the Trump Organisation came along and plonked a hotel there”. In actuality, the presence of the hotel and golf links is a triumph of the local community, coming together to create employment for the area.

Being over 40km from Ennis and 60km from Shannon, the Doonbeg Community Development group got together in the 1990s to form a plan to bring jobs to the village.

McInerney recalls that locals had long said Doonbeg’s sandhills were considered as a location for a golf course by the group that ultimately went on to build in nearby Lahinch (opened in 1892), so the development group knew it was an idea with merit.


Having approached Shannon Development for help in securing funding, the project received £2.4 billion to purchase the land in question from the nine property owners, after which a third-party was sought to develop the plot into a golf course and hotel.

Despite numerous objections, the third-party in question, Landmark National, eventually secured planning permission, clearing the way for them to sell it to Kiawah Development Partners which completed the build and opened the golf course and hotel in 2002.

Fast-forward through a family fallout and a fleeting spell in receivership, the property again changed hands in February 2014, bringing the Trump motorcade to town.

The Trump effect

Although it is now almost impossible to imagine a world before Trump graced the Oval Office, in 2014, he was strictly business, with an estimated worth of $3.9 billion according to that year’s Forbes Rich List.

Investment in rural areas, which are so often left wanting, is rarely met with resistance from the local community.

McInerney explains the people of Doonbeg were ready to work with the Trump Organisation, as they had with the previous owners, so long as it honoured the four stipulations laid out in the original development plan; Provide employment for the local area, offer a discounted rate for local golfers, maintain access to Doughmore Beach, and invest in infrastructure.


“The community said so long as whoever owns it honours those four conditions we will work with them,” McInerney adds.

“We can’t pick or choose who owns the property, and if they stick to honouring that, we will work with them.”

Then-US president Donald Trump landing at Shannon Airport in 2019.

Although she stresses Trump Snr’s involvement in the day-to-day running of the resort is “miniscule” – his son Eric oversees the Doonbeg business – she acknowledges that since the Trump Organisation took over, all four conditions have been met and the business continues to maintain strong links with the nearby village.

An example of this, which the Trumps inherited from the previous proprietors, was a shuttle service from the hotel to the village, she explains.

“[The previous owners] found out pretty early on that the Americans that came to the site didn’t want to spend every evening in the hotel talking to themselves.

“They wanted to come into the village and meet the locals, experience the local pubs and the music, so the shuttle service developed.”

“When Trump’s took over, they continued that service,” she says, adding it has been “hugely beneficial” for other local businesses.

This ripple effect extends beyond the other pubs and restaurants in Doonbeg, but also to a host of local suppliers.


“Because its local people working there, local people will look to do business with locals first, so people in purchasing and buying have done a huge amount of business with suppliers who are based locally,” she adds.

‘Build a wall’

Although the economic pros of Trump’s investment may be significant, his political notoriety has had its drawbacks, most notably in terms of plans for a much-needed flood defence system.

The sea wall in Doonbeg has long been called for to protect the area from costal erosion and flooding.

“It was an issue before Trump took over, and they were prepared to work with it and knew they would have to invest heavily in it,” McInerney says.

However, plans for the works, which she estimates would cost in the region of €10 million, have been held up at every juncture due to objections from “around the world” - objections which locals feel are largely on account of Trump’s political reputation.

“There are numerous property owners and farmers adjacent to the [Trump] property that have the right to have their land protected from the sea, and this would have helped in that regard, and yet they are in fear of another flood where their land and houses get flooded,” she adds.


The negative press seems to roll off people’s backs in Doonbeg, and the perceived fanfare around when the Trumps come to visit - like his recent cancelled trip which was due to take place this month - in reality, “isn’t a big deal” for the locals.

We don’t have a choice sometimes of who we do business with, but we take people as they come.

On his plans to run for a second presidential term in 2024, McInerney says the political views in Doonbeg as just as diverse as anywhere else in Ireland or the world: “It’s up to the people of the US to elect their president and we can’t control that.

“It’s good and bad to know what to expect if he does run for president again. Some will support his policies, and some won’t, but at the end of the day, for us, what matters is that the project we started continues to provide employment.

“Certainly, locals have an issue, and I would have an issue, with many of his policies, but he was a democratically elected president – we have no right to tell the US people as to who they elect.

“You don’t always agree with the people you do business with, politically. We, as a county, do business with places like Saudi Arabia, China and Russia, but from a political point of view we would have issue with how these countries, and even America, behave.

“In this community, we’ve always worked very well together as businesspeople and to us, they’re just another partner.

“We don’t have a choice sometimes of who we do business with, but we take people as they come.

“We took the Trump Organisation as we found them in terms of how they interact with us and how they treat us, and they have kept their end of the bargain from a business point of view.”

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