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Irish ancestral home celebrates 'return' of Obama

23 may 2011, 17:25
0
Local residents of Moneygall, Ireland, paint Maura's house ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit. ©AFP
Local residents of Moneygall, Ireland, paint Maura's house ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit. ©AFP
"In 1850, when Falmouth Kearney left the King's County for America, he might have hoped, but could hardly have imagined, that his great-great-great grandson, born in Hawaii, would return as the president of the United States," Kenny wrote in The Irish Times newspaper, AFP reports.

"The moment Airforce One touches down on Irish soil, President Obama comes 'home' as the fulfilment of the American Dream."

Moneygall is a world away from Washington and the splendours of the White House.

Parts of the Kearney house are still standing, while an upper floor has been added on the pebble-dashed, two-bedroomed home.

The house belongs to John Donovan, who runs the village store, selling everything from groceries to hardware and giant bags of dog food.

The house is currently vacant and has been spruced up in case Obama fancies standing where cobbler's son Kearney once lived.

"There's a lot of old features still in the house," Donovan told AFP as he wrote the prices on some boxes of nails.

They include the gable end and the two iron bars holding the building together.

Donovan is adamant that if the president does want to have a nosey round, he will be giving the guided tour.

"Why wouldn't I hope to meet him? If he wants to go in my door, I'm turning the key. I certainly don't want a stranger showing him in the house."

Obama is set to pop into Ollie Hayes' pub, which is festooned with Obama memorabilia.

"If he asks for a pint of Guinness, I'll give him a Guinness, if he wants a glass of water I'll give him a glass of water," a jubilant Hayes told AFP.

"Of course, it will be on the house. He can have another one as well. We don't mind. I'll keep things as normal as best I can."

Obama's eighth cousin, 26-year-old accountant Henry Healy, is buzzing with excitement.

"This is going to be one of the most historic days we have ever seen," he told AFP in the bar.

"We've been painting and cleaning so hopefully we'll be gleaming for his arrival.

"Dublin is the national opportunity to see the president; this is the personal one. If we only got 10 minutes with him it would be an honour."

In the visit build-up, more cousins have traced their shared heritage with Obama, with the local Donovan and Benn families among those linked.

"We certainly expect it to be a robust topic of discussion with the residents of Moneygall," said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

"This is a homecoming of sorts for President Obama. He's very excited to see this small town in Ireland from which he has roots, and we're very much looking forward to seeing some of the people of Moneygall."

Rhodes told reporters that Obama's Dublin speech would discuss the affinity between Ireland and the United States.

"It's a chance for the president to really celebrate the ties between our countries and the kind of unique feelings that the American people have for Ireland."

Obama, who stands for re-election next year, announced the Ireland trip on Saint Patrick's Day, the Irish national day on March 17. Many previous presidential hopefuls have used their "green" ancestry to attract the Irish-American vote.

The 44th US president is the sixth to visit Ireland.

Dublin is hoping the trip will spark a tourism and trade boost for Ireland's battered economy.

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