- Barack Obama - diplomacy - Ireland - Michelle Obama
Obama sparks joy as he returns to Irish roots
US President Barack Obama triggered joy amongst the people of Ireland on Monday as he traced his family roots at the start of what is his most significant European tour in two years.
AFP - The people of an Irish village cried "Welcome Home" Monday as a joyful US President Barack Obama traced his roots at the start of his most significant European tour in two years.
The beaming US leader was buffeted by high winds on a helicopter ride from Dublin to visit tiny Moneygall, from where his great-great-great grandfather set course for the new world 160 years ago.
The visit was the emotional highpoint of the first stop of Obama's week-long European tour which will also take in Britain, the G8 summit in France and Poland.
With security extremely tight for the visit, Moneygall's 300 residents were security-checked and then had to queue to get tickets to be allowed to see the president in the village in the rural heart of Ireland.
As rain fell and then the sun shone, the residents crammed in behind the barricades, waving Irish flags and the Stars and Stripes as they awaited the president's arrival.
When the presidential motorcade drove into the town, the Obamas emerged from the car to wild cheers and shouts of "welcome home, you are very welcome".
As Secret Service men kept a close watch, the Obamas were introduced to one special resident -- Henry Healy, a 26-year-old who is the president's eighth cousin.
Michelle Obama hugged him warmly and her husband guided the young man along, as they went over to the waiting crowd and a sea of outstretched hands.
Later, they visited the simple house where Obama's great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker's son, had lived before heading for a new life in the United States at the age of 19 in 1850.
Then they headed to one of the town's two pubs to sample Ireland's national drink, Guinness, with both the president and his wife having a slurp of the famous stout to the delight of the residents.
The president said the first time he had tasted Guinness in Ireland was when he had once flown into Shannon airport in western Ireland on the way to Afghanistan.
"Then I realised it tastes so much better here than it does in the States," he told a group of residents gathered in the pub, to laughs.
Obama's visit to Ireland, coming hot on the heels of a historic visit by Queen Elizabeth II last week, is being seen as a jolt of confidence to a nation traversing a "hard road" out of a deep economic hole.
Earlier, after landing in Dublin aboard Air Force One as wind and rain whipped across Dublin airport, Obama said: "It is heartwarming to be here" -- quipping that arrangements had been made for the sun to come out as he came into land.
After meeting Irish President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Obama hailed the queen's visit and said Northern Ireland's peace drive sent a "ripple of hope" around the world.
"I wanted to just express to the Irish people ... how inspired we have been by the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland," Obama said.
"It speaks to the possibility of peace and people in longstanding struggles being able to reimagine their relationships.
"To see Her Majesty the Queen of England come here ... sends a signal, not just in England, not just here in Ireland, but around the world."
The president was also due to deliver a speech to thousands of Dubliners in a high-security outdoor event from the steps of the Bank of Ireland, against a backdrop of famed Trinity College.
A crowd of 20,000 was expected at a vast street party boasting acts including Westlife, the Sawdoctors and Irish Eurovision stars Jedward among the performers.
Obama earlier told Kenny he was pleased with the progress Ireland was making after an economic meltdown that necessitated an International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout.
"It is a hard road, but it's one that the Irish people are more than up to the task to achieve," he said.
"We are rooting for Ireland's success and we will do everything we can to help them on the path to recovery."
The president's visit will also take him on a state visit to Britain, the G8 summit in the French resort of Deauville and to Poland, with a heavy focus on Afghanistan, the NATO operation on Libya and the debate over the next chief of the IMF.