Obama heads for Ireland, first leg of a six day European trip

McClatchy NewspapersMay 22, 2011 

LONDON — President Barack Obama arrives in Ireland Monday, a sentimental visit to the home of one of his distant ancestors and a part of his personal heritage lost to the furor of past years over where he himself was born.

Obama's quick stop in Ireland will kick off a six day trek across Europe that will include the pomp and ceremony of a state visit to the United Kingdom, urgent talks about Libya and the Arab Spring with allies at a summit in France, and an effort to smooth over relations with Poland and Central Europe after his administration pulled the rug out of a missile defense system there.

First, he'll go home to the tiny village of Moneygall, Ireland, home to his great- great-great grandfather and a chapter in the multi-national, multi-cultural melting pot that is Obama's family tree.

"This is a homecoming of sorts for President Obama," said Deputy White House National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes. "He's very excited to see this small town in Ireland from which he has roots."

Obama's Irish ancestry is far less known than his more recent background. His father, of course, was from Kenya. His mother was from Kansas. They lived in Hawaii when their son Barack was born in 1961.

Conspiracy theorists spent years alleging that Obama was actually born in Kenya and therefore not a natural born citizen eligible to be U.S. president. Though he had released a copy of his Hawaii birth certificate earlier, last month he released a copy of the long form original birth certificate.

Still, the brouhaha for years - not to mention his own book about his father -- kept focus on Obama's heritage in Africa, not on his white mother or her lineage.

Obama can trace one line of his mother's side of the family to Falmouth Kearney, the son of a shoemaker who emigrated from Moneygall, Ireland, to the United States in 1850.

That may only make Obama about 3 percent Irish. But it's enough to celebrate in a country weary of a deep debt crisis and ready to celebrate the kind of success Falmouth Kearney could hardly have envisioned when he left the village about 85 miles outside Dublin.

"His great-great-great grandson will be returning to Ireland next Monday as president of the United States," said Michael Collins, the Irish ambassador to the U.S. "It's a story of improbable success, almost of Irish legend."

Obama will find that Moneygall is a one street town, essentially straddling the Dublin Road that runs from the Irish capital to Limerick. He'll likely visit a building called the Kearney House that stands on the site of Falmouth Kearney's original home. Records at the time described it as a one-story dwelling with thatched roof and lime-mortared stone walls.

Locals also will beckon him to share a pint, perhaps at Ollie Hayes' Pub alongside the Dublin Road. Crammed with Obama memorabilia, it features campaign posters, pictures, a drawing of Obama raising a pint of Guinness, and T shirts with the name "O'Bama."

Americans have been visiting since Obama's election, Hayes said. But a visit from Obama himself would be better.

"A presidential visit is just the greatest thing to imagine," Hayes said.

Obama also will meet in Dublin with Irish President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Enda Kenny.

On Tuesday, he and First Lady Michelle Obama travel to London, where they will make a formal state visit. They'll be greeted by the Queen, feted at a dinner at Buckingham Palace, and will stay at the Palace. During his visit, the president will also give a speech to Parliament on U.S. relations with Europe, becoming the first U.S. president to give such a speech in Westminster Hall.

On Thursday he'll fly to Deauville, France, for a meeting wit the heads of the G-8 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya and the Arab Spring are likely to dominate.

And on Friday, he'll fly to Warsaw, Poland, where he'll work to assure leaders of that country and others from Central Europe that the U.S. remains committed to their defense. One likely offering: the redeployment of some U.S. F-16s from Aviano, Italy, to a base in Poland.

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