The U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, paid a visit to Barack Obama’s ancestral home in Ireland on Thursday night.
The U.S. envoy was researching the claims that Moneygall in County Offaly is the home to Fulmouth Kearney, a third great-grandfather of President Barack Obama.
Ambassador Rooney, who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been traveling Ireland extensively since his appointment in July.
Last month, he visited the tomb of a John Kearney in County Kilkenny. He was a 19th Century bishop and provost of Trinity College in Dublin. Supposedly, he is a third great grand-uncle of Obama.
Hayes's Bar on Moneygall’s main street was the focal point for Rooney’s visit. The pub usually opens lethargically after 6 p.m., but yesterday it was open and full by 4 p.m. The bar has an "Obama Corner," and housed a large congregation of Obama supporters during the presidential election last year.
Publican Ollie Hayes said: "This is an historic day. Drink prices are down after the budget and the American ambassador is coming – two things I thought would never happen.”
The ambassador’s visit has fueled speculation that the exercise may be a test-run for an Obama visit to Moneygall next year.
The area has a population of 298 people, and the region has suffered in the current recession.
Locals believe a visit from the most powerful man on Earth would lift their spirits and take their minds of the current economic woes.
A visit to Ireland in the mid 1990s by former President Bill Clinton had a massive impact on the Irish psyche, and has been credited by many economists as a turning point in Irish culture and the beginning of the Celtic Tiger.
Noel Burke, the Cathoirleach of Offaly County Council, greeted Rooney in Moneygall and he was presented with some Offaly souvenirs. Rooney also met 25-year-old Henry Healy, who is an 8th cousin of the President.
While sipping a pint of Guinness at the bar, Rooney told the crowd that Obama "wants to come to Ireland" but does not know when.
Ger Corrigan of the Corrigan Brothers folk group presented the ambassador with a copy of their song "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama." It has sold over 100,000 copies in North America. The house where Fulmouth Kearney was born stands close to the pub.
The owner of the whitewashed thatched cottage is reluctant to rent it, but says he would be willing to rent a couple of rooms to the County Council for use as a heritage center
The County Council has said it has no plans to install a heritage center, but will adequately signpost the birthplace of Fulmouth Kearney.