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Preparations to welcome Obama 'home'

Ireland is preparing to welcome Barack Obama to one of his ancestral homelands when the US President flies in to the Emerald Isle on Monday to start his European visit.

world Updated: May 22, 2011 08:02 IST

Ireland is preparing to welcome Barack Obama to one of his ancestral homelands when the US President flies in to the Emerald Isle on Monday to start his European visit.

Obama is making a 24-hour trip to the Republic of Ireland and is set to make a speech to tens of thousands in Dublin's College Green road, where one of his Democratic predecessors Bill Clinton gave an address in 1995.

Reports suggest Obama may speak about immigration - a pressing issue in the United States - drawing on the experiences of millions of Irish who have crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

And the message will be all the more personal after he makes a flying visit to the tiny village of Moneygall in rural County Offaly, where his great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney hailed from.

US security figures in dark suits have been staking out the one-strip village for nearly a week and only the 350-odd residents of Moneygall and the surrounding farms will be allowed in for the trip, expected to last little more than an hour.

Residents queued up to get their gold-bordered tickets on Thursday, with the president's eighth cousin Henry Healy, a 26-year-old accountant, getting ticket number 001.

In Dublin, Obama is due to meet President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

His visit comes three days after the highly-successful first visit of a British monarch since Ireland won its independence from London in 1922.

"Together with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, Mr Obama's visit signals to the world that while Ireland is a small country, we are a significant nation," Kenny wrote in The Irish Times newspaper.

"Equally, it reminds us here at home, that in these difficult times, Ireland has reliable, attentive neighbours, good friends.

"President Obama's arrival marks a new episode in the long and lifegiving relationship between our two, proud nations. I am confident that we will make the most of it."

The visits by Obama and the queen come as a tonic after a tough year for Ireland, during which the one-time "Celtic Tiger" economy was forced to take an 85-billion-euro ($121-billion) EU-IMF bailout to stave off bankruptcy.

In Dublin's Temple Bar pub district, The Oliver St John Gogarty bar has huge signs outside welcoming Obama, with the Irish and US flags taking pride of place.

A few doors away, and just around the corner from where Obama will deliver his speech, the Paddy Power betting shop has been renamed O'Bama Power and inside, bookmakers are taking bets on the president's address.

Bets are on for the first cliche, with "A Uachtarain agus a chairde" (Gaelic for "President and friends") the 15/8 favourite, followed by "I stand here today" at 2/1. "Pint of Guinness" is 12/1 and "Is Feidir Linn" - his "Yes We Can" slogan in Gaelic - is 20/1.

As for the president's tie, the Democrats' blue is the 15/8 favourite. The colours of the Irish flag are more remote, with green 4/1, orange 16/1 and white 20/1.

The two-metre-high (six-foot) stage for the speech is hastily being erected on the steps of the Bank of Ireland, with workmen unloading the planks and scaffolding from a Dutch truck with an AC/DC picture on the front.