NO BALLOONS, they said. Yes, you can have your march, but those black helium balloons have to go.

"Orders, I'm afraid"? one uneasily smiling garda told a man in a green tee-shirt.

"Ah come on"? said the man, smiling back, "sure if I burst this, I could go round the corner and just blow up another one." Maybe the balloons were symbolic. The gardaí burst a few, banned a few, but in the end, when the mass of protesters pushed up against the first garda line half-an-hour's walk from Shannon airport, the black balloons were everywhere. "They took them away from us earlier, but we had more"? said one demonstrator. Were the gardaí to burst every single one? Making a big deal out of it didn't seem worth it.

Because this was a peaceful protest. Although the gardaí may have formed a few impressive-looking cordons, particularly at Shannon airport itself, where they stood three-deep against the protest march, there was virtually no antagonism between them and the alliance of antiwar groups marching under the banner of Anti-War Ireland. No attempt to stop the demonstrators from getting within 10 or 15 minutes' walk from Shannon airport. No attempt by the crowd to get any further either.

At times, it was almost comical to watch the interplay between the marchers and the gardaí. "If you want to get to the airport by 8pm, you'd want to be going now"? the superintendent in charge of the operation told the protest organisers, checking his watch as the marchers kept waiting for a bus full of demonstrators from Dublin, stuck in traffic and roadworks, to arrive.

Later, on the walk up to the airport, march organiser Dominic Carroll demanded that the gardaí surrounding the protesters move forward.

"They are way too close to us, " he said, "this is beginning to look like a police march."

How big was the march?

More than the 300 Dominic Carroll had said he would be happy with. Probably less than the 1,200 some other marchers were estimating.

Maybe around 700, a reasonable showing, given the threat of nasty weather and ultimately non-existent garda checkpoints which protesters feared would stop them getting anywhere near Shannon airport.

Another Dominic, Shannon residents' group leader Dominic Haugh, believed about 250 of his members turned out in the end to register their opposition to the way Shannon townspeople had been treated in the runup to the Bush visit. "We've been forced out. It should be them getting out, " said one woman.

The gardaí might have been praying for rain. It came, in the end, pelting down from the sky around 9pm. But by then the protest was over.

The speakers, Jan O'Sullivan from the Labour Party, activist Caoimhe Butterly and Maggie Ronayne from the Global Women's Strike had said their piece. They all had the same message. "George Bush, you are not welcome here. George Bush, go home."