|Obama brown bread was on sale at a shop in Moneygall, Co. Offaly|
The visit to Ireland by President Obama next Monday marks the sixth time in the modern era that an American president has made his way to the Emerald Isle.
John F. Kennedy started the trend, followed by Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama.
It is interesting to see how all those presidents are remembered, or not remembered, in the Emerald Isle.
Nixon, for instance, had relatives in Co. Laois, yet when a friend of mine went looking for any signs of relatives in a local graveyard that he visited he could find none. It was as if Nixon never came.
Bush similarly left no Irish footprint. When he announced a desire to visit Ireland, authorities there were so worried about mass demonstrations that they corralled him in the plush Dromoland Castle hotel for a few hours before bidding him a quick farewell.
Reagan fared by far the best of the Republican presidents who visited Ireland. His trip to his ancestral town of Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, not far incidentally from Obama’s ancestral place at Moneygall in Co. Offaly, was a major success.
It was so much so that when Reagan’s presidential library was built in California they imported the Ronald Reagan Pub from the village, lock stock and barrel, and recreated it in his library.
Kennedy, of course, was and always will be the benchmark. His visit to Ireland in 1963 transformed Ireland and Irish America alike.
Here was the great-grandson of penniless Famine emigrants returning back as the most important man in the world.
The Irish loved him and he loved them back, and his memory is still strong and alive there today. The Irish government recently announced his Wexford ancestral home would be a national historic site.
Bill Clinton was a president on a mission. He was first there in 1995 to secure the peace process he did so much to launch, and those who saw his speeches in Belfast and Dublin, as I did, will never forget them.
Clinton is still a very welcome visitor in Ireland, and has managed to reach a JFK level of popularity because of his outstanding work on that peace process in the minds of the Irish people.
Obama will get a rousing reception too, not for anything he has done for Ireland but for what he represents, a truly historical figure as the first African American president and a man who aroused huge excitement during his presidential run in Ireland.
His Irish roots will be the main feature of the day he spends there next Monday, a nice new angle for American media especially who are descending in their droves on Moneygall.
With the exception of George Bush Senior, every president since Reagan has visited Ireland. It does them no harm at all to be seen in an Irish landscape.
Key election states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio have large numbers of Irish Americans who, no doubt, feel good when they see a U.S. president back in the old sod.
Sure Obama looks different, but he’s a Chicago pol who knows the angles too. It will do him no harm to parade through Moneygall as the returning hero, no matter how odd that might seem.
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