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Barack Obama’s visit to Ireland ‘a bright moment’ for country

The value of the forthcoming visit by President Barack Obama was ‘unquantifiable’ to Ireland as the country continued to rebuild its economy, according to the Irish ambassador to the United States.


The president is very unlikely to be allowed to leave the village of Moneygall without trying a Guinness at Ollie Hayes' Pub

“We have our challenges at the moment and the visit of the president represents a very bright moment for us,” said Michael Collins on the eve of Mr Obama’s arrival in Dublin on Monday.

“These are tough times and for the president of the United States to deliver a message about the closeness of the relationship between Ireland and the United States and deliver an important message about Ireland’s future will mean he gets a hugely enthusiastic welcome.”

In November, Ireland received a £70 billion bail-out package from the IMF and the EU to cover future government funding shortfalls, as well as a short-term recapitalisation of its failing banks. A very modest return to growth in gross domestic production is forecast for this year.

The sojourn by the 44th president of the United States on Monday to the village of Moneygall, whence his great-great-great grandfather departed 160 years ago for America, is likely to attract most of the world’s attention.

It is hoped Mr Obama will meet some fellow descendants of Falmouth Kearney, the son of a shoemaker who sailed in hope of a better life at the age of 19.

The president is very unlikely to be allowed to leave the village without trying a Guinness at Ollie Hayes’ Pub, which probably has more Obama memorabilia in it that any bar anywhere else in the world. It is also home to a large bust of the president.

But Mr Collins said that for the people of Ireland the open air speech that Mr Obama is scheduled to give in central Dublin later in the day is likely to prove the high point. Large crowds are expected and the address will be preceded by a concert.

It promises to be the sort of Irish-American that is evident in major American cities every St Patrick’s Day.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the White House, said that the speech was a “chance to talk about the enormous affinity that the American people have for Ireland that’s rooted in part in the huge population of Irish-Americans here”.

Up to 40 million Americans claim Irish heritage, compared to Ireland’s population of 4.5 million. With the economy forecast to return to growth “it’s a chance for the President to really celebrate the ties between our countries and the kind of unique feelings that the American people have for Ireland, and hopefully that the Irish people have had with the United States for many years,” he said.

Mr Collins added: “It is very gratifying that the president is will invest his time celebrating his background but his visit will give us the chance to broadcast the message that Ireland is very much in business and very much on its way back.”

The last US president to visit Ireland was Bill Clinton, who also claimed Irish ancestry, though in his case no documentary proof was ever found.

The line from Falmouth Kearney to Mr Obama through the president’s mother’s side is viewed as rather reliable, as genealogies go.

Filed in: World News

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