US president Barack Obama plans to visit Ireland in May

Thu, Mar 17, 2011, 00:00

US president Barack Obama today said he planned to visit Ireland in May after holding discussions with the Taoiseach on how Ireland will recover from its economic difficulties.

Speaking after meeting Enda Kenny during his St Patrick's Day visit, Mr Obama said the United States would help Ireland in its economic recovery.

“There is just an incredible bond between our two countries,” the president said from the Oval Office. “And that’s one that we want to reaffirm here today.”

He said he and Mr Kenny had an “excellent conversation” about the way in which Ireland will be “bouncing back” from its severe economic problems.

“Overall, the state of the relationship of our two countries is extraordinarily strong. This is a wonderful tradition . . . St. Patrick’s Day, for me to be able to once again reaffirm the great warmth and affection that have towards the people in Ireland.”

The president said his visit to Ireland would feature the usual tourist sites but that he also would seek the roots of his ancestor.

A White House spokesman said the president deliberately chose St Patrick’s Day to make the announcement. “He [Mr Obama] mentioned he would be seeking the roots of his great-great-great-great grandfather,” he said. “He recognises his ties to Ireland.”

The spokesman confirmed that no date had yet been set. “I think it’s really appropriate that he chose St Patrick’s Day and that was deliberate - obviously it’s out of respect to the [Irish] prime minister."

Mr Obama can trace his family to Fulmuth Kearney, his third great-grandfather, who left Moneygall, Co Offaly, for New York in 1850, to eventually settle in Ohio.

For his part, the Taoiseach returned the kind words and declared Ireland was open for business.

Earlier today, the Mr Kenny attended a St Patrick's Day breakfast hosted by US vice president Joe Biden.

In a speech during the event, Mr Kenny, noting how former US president John Quincy Adams spent time at the United States Naval Observatory, said Ireland was now plotting a course of its own "and shaping a new destiny," adding: "The waters before us may be rough, but we have begun our course and our destination is clear."

Mr Kenny told Mr Biden of the "immense pride" Ireland took in the vice president and the high office he had achieved.

The Taoiseach also played tribute to the role of the United States in the Irish peace process. "The peace that is enjoyed on the island of Ireland today is due in great measure to the leadership of successive American leaders, and we are grateful for the constant interest which you have taken, regardless of the other obligations which you carry over decades of service."

Mr Kenny began his official visit to Washington yesterday. Speaking last night, he said: “There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama,” reminding his audience at the American Ireland Fund gala that he would today “meet for the first time the man whose family, in the 1800s, moved from Co Offaly to Deerfield in Ohio”.

Mr Kenny said earlier at a lunch for business leaders that he would renew his invitation to Mr Obama. “And if he comes, he will be assured of a real Irish welcome that will no doubt fortify him in the challenges he faces as the leader of the free world.”

At the lunch, 200 business people gave Mr Kenny a long and heartfelt standing ovation after his speech on the three Rs of “recovery, renewal and restoration”.