US President Barack Obama sipped a pint of stout and cuddled babies on Monday as a tiny Irish village on Monday welcomed home “a long lost cousin” with an outpouring of affection.
Hoisting a glass of Guinness at Ollie Hayes pub as fiddle music played, Obama thus began a four-nation tour of Europe with a celebration of his ancestral roots. Roars of delight from thousands of rain-lashed people lining the street greeted the president and his wife, Michelle, as their motorcade pulled to a stop in Moneygall.
The sleepy village of 300 was the birthplace of Obama’s great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker who left in 1850 to begin a new life in the United States.
This makes Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and Irish-American mother, one of 37 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry, and he was greeted like a long lost son. The powerful images could help his 2012 re-election campaign.
Obama will also visit Britain, France and Poland on a week-long trip in which he will discuss such issues as Afghanistan and Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the world economy and the “Arab spring” uprisings.
Speaking in Dublin after talks with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Obama paid tribute to close Irish-American ties and expressed satisfaction at economic stabilisation in Ireland.