O’Bama tests Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2009

President Barack Obama tested out his Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day, donning a green tie, practicing “yes, you can” in Gaelic and making repeated references to his great-great-great grandfather from County Offaly. 
OBAMA/“I, personally, take great interest on St. Patrick’s Day because, as some of you know, my mother’s family can be traced back to Ireland,” Obama said after an Oval Office meeting with Brian Cowen, the Irish prime minister, or taoiseach.
“It turns out that … our first Irish ancestor came from the same county that taoiseach once represented. So we may be cousins,” he said to laughter. “We haven’t sorted that through yet.”
Obama discovered during last year’s election campaign that his great-great-great grandfather hailed from the Irish village of Moneygall in County Offaly.
Speaking to a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon on Capitol Hill hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Obama sounded sorry he’d learned about his Irish roots so late in his political career.
“When I was a relatively unknown candidate for office, I didn’t know about this part of (my) heritage, which would have been very helpful in Chicago,” he said. “So I thought I was bluffing when I put the apostrophe after the O. I tried to explain that ‘Barack’ was an ancient Celtic name.”
The president got a quick education on being Irish.
Cowen, presenting Obama with a traditional bowl of shamrocks, introduced him to the phrase “Is feider linn,” which translates “yes, you can,” similar to the president’s campaign slogan.
“Let me try that again. Is feider linn?” Obama said.
“Is feider linn,” said Cowen.
“Is feider linn. All right. I got that,” Obama said. “Yes we can.”
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama receives shamrocks from Cowen)


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For some good fun, listen to “No One As Irish As Barack O’Bama” by the Corrigan Brothers, posted on Youtube. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Posted by Elizabeth | Report as abusive

“Is feidir linn” means “Yes we can” not “Yes you can”.

Posted by Daithi | Report as abusive

Thanks Daithi – I was about to make the same comment and see that you beat me to it. “Is feidir linn” does indeed translate as “yes we can” – “linn” is we, not you.

Was this Cowen’s mistake or the reporters? I didn’t see the original.

Posted by Catherine | Report as abusive

The most Irish thing about Obama–he sure is full of the blarney.

Posted by april | Report as abusive

I defer to Gaelic speakers on the translation of “is feidir linn.”

When Cowen first used the phrase during the shamrock ceremony, he said: “Mr. President, there is a phrase in the Irish language — ‘Is féidir linn’ — it may seem familiar. It translates as ‘Yes, you can.’ In that spirit, and in the spirit of friendship between our two countries, I am pleased to present you this bowl of shamrock.”

Reports from the evening events, however, quote the Irish prime minister as saying he taught the U.S. president to say “yes we can” in Irish.

Posted by david alexander | Report as abusive

Would endorse, as an Irish speaker, what Daithi said. “Is feidir linn” does indeed mean “yes we can”.” Yes you can” would be “Is feidir leat or libh”, depending on whether you intended the singular or plural.

Posted by Gavin | Report as abusive

Ah, the population implosion strikes again! Barack Obama, like everyone else, has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. Go back far enough, and he’ll have more direct ancestors than the population of Ireland. Or of Europe. Or of Africa. Or anywhere you want, really. Our local TV news was reporting that he has a direct ancestor from East Anglia, for example. I have little doubt that every TV station in the world was reporting something similar just after the election.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive