President Obama touched down in Ireland early this morning to begin a six-day European tour. The president set a PR-friendly tone of the trip early by planting an oak tree near one planted by John F. Kennedy in Phoenix Park and visiting Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who offered the president a hurling stick as a gift. ("If members of Congress aren’t behaving, give ‘em a little paddle, a little hurl," the president told the cameras at the junket in Dublin.) Following a historic state visit by the Queen, the first monarch to do so since the Irish War of Independence, the popular reaction to Obama's trip is light-hearted in comparison. After all, the most talked-about stop on Obama's itinerary is a pub in Moneygall, once home to the President's great-great-great grandfather. In the tiny 300-person village, Obama will drink a pint at Ollie Hayes' Pub and tip his hat to nearly 36-million Irish-American voters with the reminder that his ancestors came from the emerald isle, too.
Most of the Irish seem very excited about Obama's visit, despite some assumptions that the one-day affair is more or less "naked electioneering." Cristina Odone of The Telegraph's sounds suspicious of O'Bama highlighting his heritage so prominently during his brief stay on the emerald isle--a trip that will cost the struggling Irish government millions. Irish critics are accusing Obama, the sixth President of Irish descent to visit the country, of turning his trip into a PR junket, rather than focusing on meetings with government officials about the two countries coping with similar economic crises and towards his own interests. She wrote, "For Catholic Ireland, his trip is not so much the return of the Prodigal Son as the photo-op of the wayward cousin." Looking at Obama's remarks after his visit with Enda Kennedy shows that indeed the president is quick to give a shout out to Irish-Americans. From the first paragraph his speech:
The friendship and the bond between the United States and Ireland could not be stronger. Obviously it is not just a matter of strategic interest, it's not just a matter of foreign policy; for the United States, Ireland carries a blood link with us. And for the millions of Irish Americans, this continues to symbolize the homeland and the extraordinary traditions of an extraordinary people.
The strategy is at least working on the people of Moneygall. In anticipation of Obama's visit, the town's residents were so excited, they made a YouTube video: