Barack Obama once told the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney that he wants to visit Ireland and that he is very interested in his Irish roots.
That was when Obama was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the race for the White House and when Rooney was still in charge of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team.
Ambassador Rooney was on a visit to Kilkenny city Wednesday, November 18, home to the tomb of Obama's long lost relative, Bishop John Kearney. He said he has asked Obama to visit Ireland and that while White House staff usually look after the itinerary for such a visit, he would impress on Obama that Kilkenny would be a great place to visit while he is in the country.
The Mayor of Kilkenny Malcolm Noonan has sent a formal invitation to President Obama with an offer of the Freedom of the city of Kilkenny.
Rooney visited Kilkenny city in the early 1970s with his family – it was when the All Ireland hurling final was on in Croke Park. He said that the following morning he was brought to the bank in the city where he was served by one of the victorious Kilkenny team from the day before (probably Eddie Keher).
Rooney said this was unique and it was something that he always remembered.
He was shown the tomb of Obama's sixth generation grand-uncle, Bishop Kearney, at St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny by the dean of St. Canice's, Norman Lynas, who made Rooney and his wife Pat, honorary friends of the cathedral.
Irish film director Gabriel Murray who is currently producing a two-part documentary “Obama’s Irish Roots,” found the tomb. Murray’s film covers Obama’s Irish ancestors’ journey from Ireland to Hawaii and explores 1,000 years of the president’s family history.