Tales from the Trail

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.”

Speaking Obama with an Irish lilt

So after President Barack Obama tried out an Irish phrase on St. Patrick’s Day, the Prime Minister of Ireland unwittingly ended the evening by speaking a little Obama.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, in Washington to help celebrate the day when everyone is Irish and a touch of green goes a long way, ended up at the White House for an evening reception. OBAMA-IRELAND

Obama, whose great-great-great grandfather hailed from Ireland, pointed out that the White House was designed and built by an Irish architect.  “Today serves, as well, as a solid reminder of just how deeply intertwined, how deeply woven the ties between our nations are,” the president said to guests in the state dining room.

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

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