Obama preparations in full swing

Obama preparations in full swing

US President Barack Obama will visit his ancestral home and follow in the steps of some of his predecessors when he touches down in Ireland on Monday.

Security is expected to be tight during Mr Obama’s public events in the village of Moneygall, Co Offaly, and again at an open air rally in Dublin city centre.

Access will not be restricted to the free concert and presidential address on College Green but those attending will be screened.

Mr Obama will speak to a crowd of thousands at the same College Green location where President Bill Clinton wooed onlookers in 1995. It will be attended by the US President’s wife Michelle and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The set-piece occasion will follow a whistle-stop trip to his ancestral home of Moneygall, Co Offaly, where up to 2,000 people are expected to descend upon the village for his 45-minute drop-in.

Unlike the Queen’s tour, which concluded on Friday, it is not a state visit and will not carry the same degree of ceremony. But it recognises the special ties which many Irish people have with America.

Almost 37 million people in the US claim Irish heritage, most dominantly in cities such as Boston, New York and the President’s political powerbase in Chicago.

President Obama will be the sixth President to visit Ireland. The first was made by John F Kennedy in 1963. The US is Ireland’s largest trading partner and the country’s investment has created more than 89,000 jobs.

At the start of their visit, Mr Obama and the first lady will call on President Mary McAleese at her Dublin residence, the Aras an Uachtarain. They will sign the visitor’s book and there will be a tree planting ceremony. Two children will ring the Peace Bell and greet the President and his wife.

The meeting with Mr Kenny and his wife Fionnuala will take place at the state guesthouse at Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park.

The Taoiseach and his deputy Eamon Gilmore will meet the president in the dining room at Farmleigh. They will discuss the economic challenges and steps taken towards Ireland’s recovery, the peace process and co-operation between the two countries on food security.

Mr Obama will be taken by helicopter to Moneygall. His great-great-great-great-grandfather was a shoemaker in Moneygall and his son, Falmouth Kearney, left for New York in 1850.

Residents queued for up to six hours on Thursday to secure a “golden ticket” to see his homecoming. It will involve a trip down Main Street to the Kearney ancestral home, where he will be greeted by John Donovan, the owner of the house, and his family. The President and First Lady will then visit Ollie Hayes’ pub to meet extended family members including representatives of the Healy, Donovan and Benn families.

Obama fever is sweeping the village, with US secret service agents moving in as locals paint their houses and repair the footpaths.

Meanwhile, the Offaly Independent has cast away tradition and temporarily changed its 119-year-old name to mark the historic visit.

The Obama Independent went on sale for a one-off special souvenir edition on Friday.

Editor Tadhg Carey said the paper, owned by Celtic Media Group, wanted to celebrate a unique occasion in Offaly’s history in a novel manner.

Local entrepreneur Billy Hayes is also bucking the recession with a range of commemorative T-shirts he designed for the occasion.

He revealed that a batch of Obama Moneygall 2011 T-shirts have been ordered by the US Embassy in Dublin for officials who will not have time to shop during his visit.

Returning to Dublin, Mr Obama will address an open air College Green audience at the end of entertainment involving many well-known Irish artists. Security gates will open at 2pm to facilitate the large number of people likely to attend.

Up to 10 venues were examined for the event, including O’Connell Street, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Croke Park and the Phoenix Park, but the others were ruled out for security or traffic reasons.

Mr Clinton addressed a crowd of thousands there in 1995. Mr Obama, who has Irish, Kenyan and American roots, is expected to highlight the strong ties between Ireland and the US.

Large screens will be in place on College Green to enable all present to see those on stage.

The President will fly out of Dublin on Tuesday to start a state visit to the UK.

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