Hopes rise for Obama visit to Ireland

Ireland's US ambassador is expected to speak with US President Barack Obama within weeks about a possible visit to his ancestral home in Co Offaly, it emerged tonight.

The American embassy in Dublin confirmed that Dan Rooney would travel to Moneygall on Thursday for a trip that has sparked fresh hopes of a visit from the world's most powerful man.

The top diplomat and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, is likely to brief Mr Obama about the small village (population 299) where his third great-grandfather Fulmuth Kearney grew up, according to the embassy.

"They speak every couple of weeks, so he'll see him after Christmas at some stage and it's something he might raise with him," said a spokesman.

Villagers are planning an afternoon of traditional Irish music and dancing for the ambassador in Ollie's pub, where they partied the night away when America elected its first black president last year.

It is expected he will then be taken to the site where Fulmuth, the son of a shoemaker, lived just off the dusty main street which is now the Dublin to Limerick road.

The US embassy said there was a special significance to this trip by Mr Rooney, who will travel around Ireland during his tenure as ambassador.

"Absolutely, he wants to go and see it," said a spokesman.

"The ambassador has always said that he was hoping the president would get here before the end of his first term, but nothing has been scheduled as of yet.

"If the ambassador is down there looking, if the President is coming, then he would be recommending they go to Offaly."

Former acting ambassador Robert Faucher, the US charge d'affaires at the time, stopped off in the village last February.

Last month in Kilkenny, Mr Rooney visited the grave of John Kearney, a 19th century bishop of Ossory and provost of Trinity College, who researchers claim was a distant grand-uncle of Mr Obama.

The ambassador said Mr Obama was very much interested in his Irish roots and wanted to travel to Ireland.

Henry Healy, who counts himself as a distant cousin of Mr Obama, said he had high hopes of a presidential trip to the village.

"It's the third visit we've had from the Embassy this year so it's quite significant that the Ambassador's coming," he said.

"We'll be giving him an invitation on behalf of the people of Moneygall to pass on to the President."

The 25-year-old said locals would pull out all the stops for Mr Obama.

"What better way would there be to celebrate the coming home of one of Ireland's own but to throw one big party for him?" he added.

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