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.
“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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