Obama says Ireland's 'best days are still ahead'


US president Barack Obama crowned a triumphant day in Ireland with an address to an estimated 50,000 people at Dublin’s College Green yesterday evening.

In a rousing speech he encouraged people not to give in to those who claim the country cannot cope with the challenges facing it.

“We’re people, the Irish and Americans, who never stop imagining a brighter future, even in bitter times. We’re people who make that future happen through hard work, and through sacrifice, through investing in those things that matter most, like family and community.”

He said Ireland was a “little country, that inspires the biggest things – your best days are still ahead”.

Earlier, the president and his wife Michelle received an ecstatic welcome in Moneygall, Co Offaly, where they were greeted by Mr Obama’s eighth cousin, Henry Healy. They spent close to 45 minutes shaking hands and greeting hundreds of people along the main street. A relaxed Mr Obama pulled babies from the crowd and hugged locals.

They then called to Mr Obama’s ancestral home and to Ollie Hayes’s pub, where the president and his wife sampled Guinness. Mr Obama said “sláinte” before drinking his pint and paying for it. “I just want you to know the president pays his bar tab,” he joked.

The visit to Moneygall and the College Green speech were the highlights of a day that began with the president and his wife arriving at Dublin airport just after 9.30am. They travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin, where they were welcomed by President Mary McAleese and her husband, Dr Martin McAleese.

The president had a 40-minute working meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Farmleigh.

At a press conference after the meeting, Mr Obama pledged that the United States would do everything it could to help Ireland on the road to economic recovery. He said he had discussed the important economic issues with the Taoiseach and was glad to see progress being made in stabilising the economic situation. “I know it’s a hard road, but it’s one that the Irish people are more than up to the task in achieving.

“What I emphasised is that we want to continue to strengthen the bonds of trade and commerce between our two countries, and that we are rooting for Ireland’s success and we’ll do everything that we can to be helpful on the path to recovery,” he added.

Mr Kenny said he had explained to Mr Obama the seriousness with which Ireland and the new Government were dealing with the issues.

Introducing the president later at College Green, Mr Kenny said Mr Obama had come “home” to show he believed in Ireland.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that Ireland is a place where all things are possible, today is your answer,” said Mr Kenny.

In his speech, Mr Obama said Ireland and the US were bound by history, affection and the bonds of friendship. To rousing cheers he introduced himself as: “Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O’Bamas. I am here to find the apostrophe that we lost along the way. Tá áthas orm bheith in Éirinn.”

The president and his wife went down from the stage to shake hands with the crowd before leaving. They concluded their visit by having dinner at the residence of the US ambassador in the Phoenix Park.

Mr Obama took off from Dublin airport in Air Force One at 9.28pm. The departure more than 12 hours earlier than expected was in order to avoid the effects of an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland.

A White House official said the early departure was “due to a recent change in the trajectory in the plume of volcanic ash”.

Mr Obama last night stayed at Winfield House, the US ambassador to London’s residence in Regent’s Park.

Today, the Obamas will attend a private lunch at Buckingham Palace given by Queen Elizabeth. They will then view an exhibition of American-related items from the royal collection and royal archives.

This evening, the Queen will host a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in honour of the president.