O’bama? President digs deep to find Irish roots
In Washington, everybody seems to claim ties to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, even politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is famously Italian-American. Pelosi, with self-deprecating humor, told the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon on Capitol Hill that her ties are through grandchildren of Irish-American descent.
But many politicians’ ties are much less tenuous. After waves of Irish immigration to the United States, some 36 million Americans report some Irish ancestry. Nine of the past 10 U.S. presidents have been at least partly of Irish descent, according to the Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies. The only exception? Gerald Ford. NOT the man who would appear the least likely to have Irish forebears, President Barack Obama.
Obama has to look way, way back on his mother’s side of the family to locate his Irish roots, but they are there.
“Today is a day we speak with pride of being Irish-American — whether we actually are or not,” Obama said at the lunch, which he attended with Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen. “I am pleased to say that I can actually get away with it, and I’ve got the Taoiseach here to vouch for me. Prime Minister Cowen was born in County Offaly, and I can trace my ancestry on my mother’s side there as well. I believe it was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather,” Obama said, to laughter.
“This is true,” he insisted, to more laughter. “He was a boot maker, if I’m not mistaken.”
Obama’s Irish lineage was discovered when he was running for president in 2008. The former Illinois senator noted wryly that he could have used the information earlier in his career.
“My first thought was, why didn’t anyone discover this when I was running for office in Chicago? I would have gotten here sooner,” Obama said and joked about the spelling of his last name: “I used to put the apostrophe after the “O” but that did not work.”
The first black U.S. president, whose father was from Kenya, noted that Irish immigrants to the United States were not always welcomed.
“There were times when the Irish were caricatured and stereotyped and cursed at and blamed for society’s ills,” Obama said. “So, naturally, it was a good fit for them to go into politics. Made sense,” he said, prompting loud laughter in the room filled with senators and U.S. representatives.
Picture credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama, Pelosi and Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen at U.S. Capitol on March 17, 2010, following a St. Patrick’s Day lunch).