Belfast Telegraph

Obama Offaly keen to visit Irish roots, says envoy

President Barack Obama speaks passionately about Ireland every time he talks to the US ambassador to the Republic.

And speculation is mounting about a possible Presidential visit to, after it emerged Mr Obama had family ties to Co Offaly, among other areas.

And yesterday the US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney did nothing to quell that speculation, as he visited the Faithful County as part of a tour of local authorities.

“It feels wonderful to be the ambassador to Ireland,” said Mr Rooney. “This is one of the things that President Obama also thinks, he said ‘that's a great job to get'.

“Compared to his, I would say that's true.”

According to Mr Rooney, Mr Obama would love to visit Ireland. “I think he would love to come here (Offaly) if he did ... (but) we have got to get him to Ireland first.

“The first time I met him, we talked about Ireland — the very, very first time and he talks about Ireland. He talks about Ireland when he can, and when he is with me.”

Mr Obama has an ancestral connection to Co Offaly. His great-great-great-grandfather Fulmuth Kearney emigrated to America from the small rural village of Moneygall in 1850.

Mr Rooney said: “As far as the President coming, he wants to come. He said so on St Patrick's Day. He said he was staying at my house (when he came).

“I wrote him that night and said the door is open.”

But the form of any possible visit remains uncertain.

“It's one of those things, what kind of a trip would it be? Would he come while he is on another trip and stop here, or would he come especially and spend some time here?

“His time is so busy nowadays, it is unbelievable, really,” Mr Rooney said.

Speaking of Ireland's economy, Mr Rooney said he believed things were improving.

“Ireland has a lot to offer but it needs to sell itself,” he said. “As far as education is concerned, I think you do a marvellous job.

“I sent one of my daughters here and she studied here for a year and I tell you this, she came back a much better student.”

Mr Rooney said: “I don't think you are viewed as a very expensive country. The people who come here come here because they love Ireland, and that is not going to stop.”

With relations in Co Down, there was no surprise at Mr Rooney's prediction for the GAA 2010 All-Ireland champions .

“I think Co Down is great. That's where my people are from and I think they can do it,” he said.

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