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Obama says US, Ireland Share A 'Blood Link'

  • Kent Klein

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at College Green in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, May 23, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at College Green in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, May 23, 2011

While visiting Dublin, President Barack Obama said Monday the United States and Ireland share a “blood link” that goes beyond strategic interests or foreign policy. As our correspondent reports from the Irish capital, the president also visited a small town where his family heritage extends back more than a century and a half.

President Obama and his wife Michelle received an enthusiastic welcome from Ireland's leaders and its people.

The highlight of the day was the frenzied greeting the first couple received in the small town of Moneygall, where one of Mr. Obama's ancestors lived generations ago.

The village of about 300 people had eagerly anticipated Mr. Obama's visit. The president and Mrs. Obama walked up and down Moneygall's main street and shook hands with people in a crowd many times the size of the town's population.

They stopped into the president's ancestral home and an Irish craft shop before visiting a pub.

The president and his wife chatted with the bartender and local residents while drinking a Guinness beer, which he said tastes better in Ireland than in the United States.

“But what I realized was that you guys are keeping all the best stuff here," said President Obama.

Mr. Obama's great-great-great-grandfather, a shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, is said to have left Moneygall for America in 1850, during the worst of Ireland's potato famine. The Irish connection was discovered during Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency.

About 37 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, more than eight times the population of Ireland. President Obama told several thousand people at a concert in Dublin that Irish history is intertwined with American history.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the Irish excitement about the president's visit was palpable. Ireland's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Collins, referred to the occasion as “a golden moment” for Ireland.

After arriving in Dublin, Mr. Obama, with Irish President Mary McAleese, planted a tree near where Britain's Queen Elizabeth had planted one the previous week.

A short time later, Mr. Obama met with Prime Minister Kenny, who welcomed the president and told him the Irish government is dealing with its economic crisis in a serious way.

Last November, Ireland accepted a financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. One condition of the help is that the Irish government must cut about 25,000 jobs.

Mr. Obama acknowledged the tough steps Ireland is taking to address its economic problems. He said the American people are rooting for Ireland to succeed, and he pledged that the U.S. government will help in any way possible.

“We are glad to see that progress is being made in stabilizing the economic situation here," said Obama. "I know it is a hard road, but it is one that the Irish people are more than up to the task in achieving.”

Mr. Obama also said progress toward peace in Northern Ireland is an inspration, demonstrating how people in "longstanding struggles can re-imagine their relationships."

In addition, the president and Mr. Kenny talked about the NATO military operation in Libya, and about U.S. immigration policy.

And Mr. Obama said Ireland “punches above its weight,” contributing disproportionately to international projects from peacekeeping to food security to human rights.

The president next visits Britain, where he will try to reinforce what has long been called the “special relationship” between the two countries.

Later in the week, Mr. Obama will attend the G8 economic summit in the French resort city of Deauville. He will conclude his trip with a visit to Warsaw, where he will meet with Central European leaders.