US President Barack Obama, left, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny shake hands during talks in Farmleigh, Dublin, May 23, 2011
US President Barack Obama, left, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny shake hands during talks in Farmleigh, Dublin, May 23, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama has begun a visit to Ireland by praising its efforts to bring peace to the British province of Northern Ireland as an inspiration to the United States.

After meeting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Dublin Monday, Obama said "progress" toward peace in Northern Ireland demonstrates how people in "longstanding struggles can re-imagine their relationships."

The president also said Queen Elizabeth of Britain's landmark visit to Ireland last week helped bring about "mutual warmth and healing" that sends a "ripple of hope" through both nations and around the world. The queen's trip was the first by a British monarch to Ireland in about a century.

As part of his four-nation European tour, Obama will also make a state visit to Britain, attend a Group of Eight nations summit in France, and visit Poland for talks with Central European leaders.

The president told Irish Prime Minister Kenny that the friendship between the United States and Ireland is not just a matter of strategic interest and foreign policy, but also carries a "blood link."

Obama said millions of Americans with Irish roots regard Ireland as the "homeland" of what he called their "extraordinary traditions."  The blood link extends to the president himself, whose great-great-great grandfather on his mother's side was born in Ireland in 1830 and emigrated to the U.S. 20 years later.

Obama also welcomed Ireland's progress in stabilizing its heavily indebted economy, a process that he said will be a "hard road." Ireland was forced to accept a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund last November. The emergency loans came with stringent terms requiring Ireland to cut thousands of government jobs.

In one of the highlights of Obama's stay in Ireland, he began a brief visit to his ancestor's birthplace in the Irish hamlet of Moneygall on Monday. Residents of the village in Ireland's County Offaly were eagerly anticipating the president's pilgrimage.

Prior to meeting the Irish prime minister, Obama met his Irish counterpart, Mary McAleese, at her official residence in Dublin. The U.S. president also participated in a tree-planting ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement that put Northern Ireland on the road to peace.