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Irish village set for Obama's visit to trace roots

Barack Obama has not set a date for an Irish visit but an open invite remains in place, officials said yesterday.

As speculation mounted that President Obama will visit Ireland in the summer, the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs said it had not received any notice.



However, a spokesperson told the Herald that a visit later this year was a possibility.



"There is an open invite. He can come at a date of his choosing," an official said.



The statement comes amid reports that Obama had pencilled in a trip to Dublin, Belfast and Offaly for next June.



The US Embassy has already carried out a mission in Moneygall, Co Offaly, which is reputed to be the birthplace of the President's ancestors.



Henry Healy, who is a distance relative of Obama, revealed that a "draft plan was sketched back in September" when a press officer from the Embassy visited the tiny village.



"We did hold a meeting with them to decide what he would do, who he would meet and that sort of thing, if a visit were to happen," Mr Healy told the Herald.



He explained that he was aware of rumours that Obama would announce a visit during the Taoiseach's St Patrick's Day trip to the White House, but cautioned: "We've heard it through the grapevine, but we've had nothing official yet."



Reports today suggest that diplomatic staff in the White House are planning a three-day stay in Ireland at the end of June.



The schedule would see Air Force One landing in Dublin where the President would attend a series of engagements before moving to Belfast.



He would also squeeze in a short visit to Moneygall, having previously acknowledged that official records show his great-great-great grandfather Fulmoth Kearney emigrated from the rural village in 1850.



"These things would usually happen at short notice," said a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs who would oversee protocol for any such visit.



But Mr Healy said: "It won't take us long to get ready. The bunting would be up."



Officials from the US Embassy have now been to Moneygall on three occasions, dating back to February 2009.



US Ambassador Dan Rooney spent about an hour in the village last December.



Taoiseach Brian Cowen will travel to Washington next week for a one-to-one meeting with the President.



He will also take part in the annual Shamrock Ceremony and attend a banquet hosted by the President and Michelle Obama.

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