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Irish village embraces Obama as its own

The president's trip to Ireland is seen as a symbol of US-Irish solidarity in hard economic times, but his stop in tiny Moneygall, where his Irish ancestors lived, has been a cause for celebration among residents.

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Despite being merely a whistle-stop tour that lasts just 24 hours, Obama’s visit to his distant ancestors’ homeland of County Offaly and to Dublin is being greeted with significant enthusiasm. It stands in sharp contrast to last week's visit by the British queen, which, while highlighting the improved relations between Ireland and Britain, was a muted affair.

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The brief US presidential visit is being seen as a show of solidarity in dark times.

“It’s a much less complicated relationship [but] it’s also a case of knowing we have friends,” says Dr. Earner Byrne. “Who [else] wants to be associated with Ireland at the moment?”

Claiming US presidents as Irish has been par for the course since the era of President John F. Kennedy. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton enjoyed warm welcomes – particularly Mr. Clinton, who is revered for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

President George W. Bush received a more ambivalent reception during his 2004 visit, which came amid protests and grievances about the Irish government's decision to allow US military aircraft to refuel in Shannon during the Iraq war, despite the country's neutral stance in the conflict.

Interest abounds in Obama, both as an individual and as US head of state. While some small protests are planned in Dublin by socialist groups opposed to US foreign policy, Obama’s presidency has been much more popular in Ireland than that of his predecessor. Earner-Byrne says the Irish see Obama as a historically significant figure.

“I remember sitting with my daughter watching Obama’s inauguration and it was really quite amazing. I suspect most Irish people will respond to his visit on that level rather than his US policies – few people here could understand how the difficulties he had with his healthcare bill, for instance.”

David Cochrane, who runs the Irish political web forum Politics.ie, says that although Obamamania is in full swing, he considers Queen Elizabeth's trip to Ireland more politically significant.

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