Feature: Obama addresses cheering crowds in hero's welcome in Ireland

08:44, May 24, 2011      

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U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (1st L) drink beer together with local residents at a bar in Moneygall, central Ireland's County Offaly, May 23, 2011. U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday afternoon visited his Irish ancestral home in Moneygall. (Xinhua/Maxwell Photography)

Though many expected U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Ireland to be an anti-climax after last week's historic and emotional fraught visit by British Queen Elizabeth II, an estimated 60,000 people crowded into the heart of Dublin city center Monday afternoon to listen to his speech on his whirlwind 12-hour visit to Ireland.

Some arrived as early as 7 a.m. local time to queue, braving strong winds and sudden showers between bouts of sunny blue skies. By 4 p.m., Dublin city police had issued statements that the area will be closed as it was at full capacity, and warned that new arrivals would be turned away.

While they waited for the U.S. president to arrive, the crowd was entertained by a free concert by Irish recording artists including Imelda Mae, Westlife and Jedward, as well as appearances by famous Irish celebrities and sportsmen including actors Stephen Rae and Daniel Day Lewis, soccer player Robbie Keane, and rugby star Brian O'Driscoll.

The crowd rose to a fevered pitch at 6 p.m. when Obama and his wife Michelle took to the stage erected in front of the picturesque Georgian Bank of Ireland building on the College Green square, with Irish and American flags above unfurled by the sudden strong gusts of wind. The U.S. president was protected by bullet proof glass on three sides, and stood in front of some 60 selected citizens representing the 32 counties of Ireland.

"I'm Barack Obama of the Moneygall Obamas," the U.S. president began to loud cheers and applause. Moneygall, a small town in central Ireland's County Offaly, is his ancestral home in Ireland.

In his speech, Obama paid tribute to the late Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald, who died last week, and spoke of Ireland's strides in cementing the peace process. He also told the story of his great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney who immigrated to the United States in 1850, during the Irish famine, hoping to make a better life in the United States.

"Like everyone who made that trip, he had to leave behind all the knew in hopes that there's something better beyond the horizon, " Obama said. "They had nothing to sustain their journey but faith, faith that they can make it if they work hard."

He said that having a dream and working to realize that dream would take Ireland out of its current economic woes, and recounted all of the common history between the two nations, recounting Irish contribution to the United States from the War of Independence to the Civil War and the fight against slavery.

"That is the story of America and Ireland, our blood, side by side," he said. "Never has a nation so small inspired so much in another. There's always been a little green behind the red white and blue."

Obama had a positive message for the Irish. "This nation has faced great challenges before. Yours is a history marked by great trials and deep sorrows, but proud and defiant endurance," he said. "We are people who never stop imagining a brighter future even in bitter times."

"Our greatest triumphs are still to come," he said, closing with his now famous election slogan. First in Irish, "Is feidir linn!" And then, in English: "Yes we can!"

Obama left Ireland for London just before 9:30 p.m. with Air Force One departing early due to the volcanic ash cloud.

Source: Xinhua

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