Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of a number of US presidents with Irish ancestors who made the same trip to Ireland. For some, it was simply an official state visit or a shameless bid to boost their Irish Catholic vote, while for others, it was to show their appreciation of the Diaspora’s integral role in building America.
JFK, the great-grandson of an Irish emigrant, was the first serving US president, as well as the first Irish-American president, to visit Ireland. You can see the excitement his 1963 trip generated in RTÉ's archive footage at www.rte.ie/laweb.
In 1970, Richard Milhous Nixon visited his ancestors’ graves in Timahoe in Kildare. A documentary about his trip was called The Forgotten Visit – given his later miring in scandal, perhaps no bad thing.
Ronald Reagan visited his great-grandfather Michael’s birthplace in 1984, turning up in Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary for a pint of Smithwicks at O’Farrells Pub. The pub was later dismantled and shipped to California’s Reagan Presidential Museum!
You have to go way back to find the Bush boys’ ancestors, but they appear to be linked to Brian Boru, Strongbow and Aoife. Of course, if you go that far back, most of us could make that claim. George W's 2004 visit for the EU-US summit was more politics than pleasure.
A dearth of Irish links didn’t hinder Bill Clinton forming a mutual bond with Ireland, not least of all for his crucial role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Despite Donald Trump’s allegations, Obama’s visit is primarily to indulge his fascination with his maternal ancestors and he will do for Moneygall what JFK did for New Ross. The similarities between them are remarkable: two relatively young, handsome, Christian men, crossing racial boundaries to lead their countries through difficult times, and both exploring their Irish roots at a time when we, as a country, need it most.