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Obama in Ireland to reaffirm 'bonds of affection'

 


DUBLIN — He downed a pint of Guinness with a distant cousin and checked out centuries-old parish records tracing his family to Ireland. From the tiny village of Moneygall to a huge, cheering crowd in Dublin, President Barack Obama opened his four-nation trip through Europe on Monday with an unlikely homecoming far removed from the grinding politics of Washington and the world.

"My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I've come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way," a clearly tickled Obama — make that O'Bama — told the overflow throng at Dublin's College Green with his wife, Michelle, right by him. "We feel very much at home."

Obama's feel-good indulgence in Ireland came at the start of a four-country, six-day trip that is bound to get into stickier matters as he goes. The only hitch on day one was the threat of a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that led the president to leave Ireland without even a night's stay and land in England on Monday night.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Ireland's President Mary McAleese at the Peace Bell during a tree planting ceremony in Dublin, Ireland, today. President Barack Obama opens a six-day European tour with a quick dash through Ireland, where he will celebrate his own Irish roots and look to give a boost to a nation grappling with the fallout from its financial collapse.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

U.S. President Barack Obama drinks Guinness beer as he meets with local residents at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall, Ireland, the ancestral homeland of his great-great-great grandfather, Monday.

His high point in Ireland was a helicopter jaunt to Moneygall,

population 350 give or take it, where the president's great-great-great

grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, was born and where thousands congregated

to welcome the United States' first black president home. Obama met

there with his nearest Irish relative, 26-year-old accountant Henry

Healy, and they stopped in at Ollie's Bar for a Guinness.

It

was a moment and a pint to savor. To the approval of the pub crowd and

people all across Ireland watching on television, Obama downed the full

pint in four slurps and came away with a foam mustache.

"The

president actually killed his pint! He gets my vote," said Christy

O'Sullivan, an Irish government clerical worker taking a long lunch

break to watch live TV footage of Obama's visit. "He's the first

president I've actually seen drink the black stuff like he's not ashamed

of something."

An Irish link is good news for any American

politician trying to connect with voters, and particularly for one who's

been dogged by questions about whether he was even born in the United

States. By some estimates, 35-40 million Americans trace their ancestry

to Ireland. While Ireland, population 4.5 million, is a relatively small

player on the world stage, this nation roughly the size of West

Virginia has been a popular stopping point for modern American

presidents ever since John F. Kennedy came in 1963.

For Obama,

it was a day reminiscent of the campaign season when candidate Obama

was greeted by adoring crowds and the president milked it for all it was

worth. He spoke enthusiastically Monday of "the bonds of affection"

between the United States and Ireland. "There's always been a little

green behind the red, white and blue," he said to cheers in Dublin.

It wasn't until the 2008 presidential campaign that Obama discovered he

had Irish roots, when a priest of the local Anglican church, Canon

Stephen Neill, located the family's baptismal records and established

the connection. Falmouth Kearney, who immigrated to the United States in

1850 at the age of 19, is a great-grandfather of Obama on his

Kansas-born mother's side. His father was born in Kenya.

In

Moneygall, 14-year-old Grainne Ryan scrawled "Obama" and drew a shamrock

on her cheeks with eyeliner. Thirty-one-year-old Tara Morris pronounced

herself "star-struck," a sentiment that appeared to be shared by many

in a country that could use a boost as it weathers a steep economic

downturn after its boom years as the Celtic Tiger.

Michelle

Obama, for her part, drank her full half-pint and then got behind the

bar herself to serve Moneygall's parish priest, the Rev. Joe Kennedy.

In

advance of his arrival in London, Obama announced the formation of a

new joint U.S.-British national security council designed to allow the

two countries to work more closely together and share intelligence on

long-term security challenges, particularly in the Middle East and

Afghanistan.

 

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