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Ireland welcomes Obama with open arms

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2011

A starstruck Irish audience welcomed President Obama with open arms Monday, feting their long-lost relative - Mr. Obama's great, great, great grandfather emigrated during the Irish famine - with a tour of his ancestral home, a pint of Guinness and a hurling stick.

The president, kicking off a six-day European visit, told a crowd of 25,000 in Dublin that his history is just another example of the great American melting pot.

“It's a familiar story because it's one lived and cherished by Americans of all backgrounds,” Mr. Obama said of his ancestor, a shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, who settled in America's Midwest and married a woman from Ohio. “It's who we are, a nation of immigrants from all around the world.”

Before addressing the crowd at College Green, Mr. Obama praised Ireland's contributions on the world stage in separate meetings with Irish President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Enda Kenny. He noted that the country, which has a population of about 4.6 million, “punches above its weight” by contributing to peacekeeping forces throughout the globe and training Afghan troops.

Mr. Obama also held up the progress made toward peace in Northern Ireland - underscored by Queen Elizabeth II's symbolic visit to Ireland last week - as en example.

“It speaks to the possibilities of peace and people in longstanding struggles being able to re-imagine their relationships,” the president said alongside Mr. Kenny.

But even as Mr. Obama and his counterparts discussed weighty issues such as the sovereign debt crisis and Ireland's bailout by the International Monetary Fund, the highlight of his visit was undoubtedly cultural.

Mr. Obama enjoyed something of a rock star's reception in Moneygall, the tiny village of 300 where his Irish ancestor lived before traveling by boat to New York in 1850 to escape the country's potato famine. Mr. Kearney's youngest daughter was the grandmother of Stanley Dunham, Mr. Obama's maternal grandfather.

Eager onlookers kissed and shook hands with the president as he and first lady Michelle Obama made their way to local pub Ollie Hayes, where a bartender poured them each a Guinness.

“You tell me when it's properly settled, I don't want to mess this up,” Mr. Obama said to laughter inside the bar, which was decked out with posters from his 2008 campaign and a framed T-shirt that read: “O'Bama's Irish Pub.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kenny presented Mr. Obama with a book of Hawaiian myths written by an Irish professor for his daughters, Sasha and Malia, as well as the hurling stick, the principal implement in an ancient Gaelic outdoor game with some similarities to lacrosse and field hockey.

Reporters traveling with Mr. Obama said he held the stick as if it were a baseball bat and joked, “If members of Congress aren't behaving, give 'em a little paddle, a little hurl.”

The president also participated in a tree-planting ceremony at Mrs. McAleese's official residence in Phoenix Park, planting an Irish upright oak that will be moved nearby a Sequoia planted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama and his Irish hosts, the changing course of a plume of volcanic ash forced Air Force One to depart Ireland for London on Monday night. Mr. Obama had been scheduled to spend the night in Dublin.

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