The visit to a blustery Dublin, where empty storefronts and half-finished buildings stand testament to its dire financial condition, served as a mostly ceremonial start to Obama’s six-day swing through Europe.
The four-nation tour is heavy with official meetings at a time when national security issues — in Afghanistan, North Africa and the Middle East — stand at the top of the U.S.-European agenda.
But Obama used his stop here to practice some uplifting public diplomacy, emphasizing shared American and Irish heritage and traits, including, most recently, resiliency in the face of economic crisis.
He walked out onto some branches of his family tree and had a pint of Guinness in Moneygall, the birthplace of his maternal great-great-great grandfather. He then arrived for a street rally in downtown Dublin where some U.S. presidents addressed Ireland during moments of despair.
“I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way,” he told the audience, making reference to the preferred Irish spelling of his name, O’Bama.
At each stop, the crowd seemed to view his visit as another hopeful sign that, after several years of debilitating recession, change may be near.
Obama’s arrival followed the historic visit last week by Queen Elizabeth II, who became the first British monarch to come to the Republic of Ireland since it became independent in 1922.
“This on the heels of that — just brilliant,” said Declan Dunphy, who with his wife, Francis, brought their two young daughters to hear the president.
Dunphy shuttered his beer-delivery business two years ago, laying off his dozen employees. Now he drives a cab and, like others, said he hoped the president’s visit would translate into some tangible change.
“It will bring a lot of tourism, hopefully,” Dunphy said. “It will open a lot of people’s eyes in America to us again.”
The president and first lady Michelle Obama emerged early Monday from Air Force One onto a wind-swept tarmac. They then hopped aboard helicopters for a short flight to a ceremonial welcome from President Mary McAleese, who apologized for the stormy weather.
But Iceland’s erupting volcano is posing a bigger problem than the rain, complicating Obama’s travel plans as it did twice last year. The president left Dublin and headed to London on Monday night — rather than Tuesday morning — to avoid potential delays.
With McAleese, Obama planted an Irish oak in Phoenix Park, near a sequoia that President John F. Kennedy planted in 1963.
He then visited Prime Minister Enda Kenny — the taoiseach, in Irish parlance — at Farmleigh, a 78-acre estate on Dublin’s outskirts once owned by the Guinness family.