O’bama? President digs deep to find Irish roots

March 17, 2010

OBAMA/

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.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

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).

2 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

“Ich bin ein Toss-ugh!”

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

It’s good to see that the whole Irish malarky is at last being treated with the levity it deserves.

Posted by cemolony | Report as abusive

[...] is not obvious to the casual reader, the president’s last name should clinch it. During a March 17, 2010 luncheon with the Irish Republic’s prime minister, Brian Cowen, the president said of his surname,  [...]