Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Obama's Ireland visit may not be Offaly long shot

Yes he can! It's a long way from Moneygall in Co Offaly to the White House, but locals are increasingly hopeful that Barack Obama will make the return journey.

Every journey begins with the first step, of course, and that was taken yesterday when the acting American Ambassador to Ireland visited the village.

Robert J Faucher told locals in Ollie Hayes' bar that he would be encouraging the new US president to visit as soon as the new administration "gets settled". Detailed analysis of President Obama's family tree by local Church of Ireland Canon, Stephen Neill found that the politician's third great grandfather, a Fulmouth Kearney, was reared in Moneygall.

However, he left for New York at the age of 19, before settling in Chicago. And 159 years since he made the journey in 1850, his great great-great-grandson was inaugurated as America's first black president.

Mr Faucher was taken on a tour of the village and brought to the field where Fulmouth Kearney's house once stood. "He got up and he spoke to everyone," local man Henry Healy, a distant relative of President Obama, said yesterday.

"He said that he and his wife did not expect the reception they got. "

He added: "For the highest- ranking American diplomat to come and visit us is exceptionally special for the village. Our fingers are crossed that word will filter back to Washington and we'll have a visit sooner rather than later."

Mr Healy said that he was an eighth cousin of the president, and that it would be a "dream come true" to meet him. "It's so surreal, the reality will only hit if I ever get to shake his hand," he said.

He also denied accusations that the small village was "jumping on a bandwagon".

"We have rallied as a community for Barack Obama long before he was president," he said.

"We were a mini- campaign headquarters during the election.

"It's something that has brought the community spirit back in the village.

"We're not talking recession and depression, we're talking hope," he added.

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