- 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.

Ireland is open for business,” he said, adding that Ireland will be “more competitive” when it fully recovers. “This is the best small country to do business in.”

The new government also is committed to maintaining Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, he said.

On his visit, Mr. Obama will hold talks with Mr. Kenny and President Mary McAleese.

“This is a very, very big deal for Ireland. … It’s a golden moment for us,” Mr. Collins said.

When Mr. Obama arrives, he will be greeted by the “friendliest people on earth,” the ambassador boasted.

The Irish, he noted, never just say “welcome.” They say “cead mile failte,” which in Irish Gaelic means “a hundred thousand welcomes.”


Nigeria this week rolled up the welcome mat for a former U.S. ambassador who warned of suspected terrorist links between a radical Muslim sect and al Qaeda terrorists.

The Nigerian Embassy in Washington refused to issue a visa to John Campbell, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to the West African nation from 2004 to 2007. A Foreign Ministry official told the Associated Press that Mr. Campbell “did not meet the visa requirements.”

The government rejected the visa after Mr. Campbell wrote a book, “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink,” which criticizes the country’s ruling class. Mr. Campbell is now with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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