- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011


Irish Ambassador Michael Collins proudly noted that his small country is the ancestral home of two American presidents, one Democrat and one Republican.

“That’s a demonstration of bipartisanship,” he told reporters at a breakfast briefing Thursday on President Obama’s upcoming trip to Ireland.

Mr. Obama on Monday plans to visit Moneygall, a town of 300 people about 80 miles southwest of Dublin. On St. Patrick’s Day this year, Mr. Obama said the town is the home of his “great-great-great-great-great-grandfather,” Falmouth Kearney.

About 45 miles south of Moneygall is the equally small town of Ballyporeen, the ancestral home of former President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Obama’s Irish roots come from his mother, Ann Dunham, while Mr. Reagan’s comes from his great-grandfather, Michael Regan, who later changed the spelling of the family name.

Mr. Reagan’s ancestor was born in 1829 and came to America in 1857. Mr. Obama’s ancestor was born in 1830 and came to America in 1850.

“Here you have these two little towns from which two American presidents have sprung,” Mr. Collins said.

The ambassador was being modest. Many American presidents of both parties have claimed Irish heritage, including John F. Kennedy. Former President George W. Bush is among those whose roots are in Northern Ireland.

“We are proud that a small part of the president happens to be Irish,” Mr. Collins said.

Asked about claims that Mr. Obama has Scottish roots, Mr. Collins replied, “Well, he’s coming to Ireland, isn’t he?”

Mr. Obama’s visit to Ireland will be his first stop on a trip that also will take him to Britain, France and Poland.

The ambassador said he hopes the Irish visit will help spur Ireland’s economic recovery. After 15 boom years with annual growth rates as high as 8 percent, the “Celtic Tiger” crashed in 2008.

The center-right political party, Fine Gael, won elections in March, and Prime Minister Edna Kenny introduced austerity measures that are stabilizing the economy. Mr. Collins said the government expects slight growth of about 1 percent this year and stronger growth in 2012.

He noted the strong economic ties between Ireland and the United States. American firms have invested $235 billion and created 100,000 jobs in Ireland, he said, while Irish companies have invested $35 billion and created 80,000 jobs in the United States.

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