Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

Rooney & O’Reilly: Dead … and gone

I’ve been away from the blog for an Easter trip to Rome. During my absence, two Irish Americans made headlines for very different reasons:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney dies

In my native Pittsburgh and across most of America, Dan Rooney was best known as chairman of the NFL Steelers, the son of the team’s late and much beloved founder. But he also was U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from July 2008 to December 2012, a co-founder of The Ireland Funds, and principal benefactor of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

He died April 13 at age 84. His grandfather emigrated from Newry, County Down to Montreal, Canada, then moved to Ohio and Pittsburgh, where the late ambassador was born.

“Deeply committed to Ireland and the Irish people, he was always conscious of his Irish roots,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins told The Irish Times.  Said former U.S. President Barack Obama:

Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland thank fondly of him today.

Obama and Rooney, right, in 2014. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Bill O’Reilly ousted from Fox News

Conservative news anchor Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel parted ways after 20 years in the wake of a New York Times exposé about the media company paying $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against the cable television ratings king.

O’Reilly describes the claims as “completely unfounded” and himself as the victim of “the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”

His great-grandfather emigrated from Clonoose, County Cavan, according to a 2016 episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” O’Reilly also was a 2014 inductee in Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The honor recognizes “the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.” Among 45 honorees since 2011: liberal cable television anchor Chris Matthews; former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Ireland nominee Brian P. Burns.

But not Dan Rooney, though the magazine has written about him.

I’ve reached out to the New York-based publication by email and Twitter to ask if they plan to keep O’Reilly among their honorees. Maybe they could switch him with Rooney. If you agree, contact the magazine at: @irishamerica, or submit@irishamerica.com.

Obama and Biden quote Irish poets

President Barack Obama cited W. B. Yeats in his surprise 12 January presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.

” ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,’ ” Obama quoted from The Municipal Gallery Revisited.

In is acceptance, Biden used a line from Seamus Heaney’s From the Republic of Conscience:  “You carried your own burdens, and very soon, the creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared.”

Read the White House transcript, or watch the presentation:

Obama will return to Ireland in ‘coming year or so’

Outgoing President Barack Obama will return to the Republic of Ireland “in the coming year or so,” according to U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley. “The last sentence the president said to me … [4 January] when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” O’Malley told RTÉ host Marian Finucane.

While the location or context of his return is less clear than the timing, Obama is generally popular in Ireland. His May 2011 visit included a stop in Moneygall, County Offaly, the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather.

Since then, a service plaza was erected in Obama’s honor on the M7 motorway just outside the village. In addition to petrol and fast food, the place is packed with Obama souvenirs, plus memorabilia of popular presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. In a contemporary sense, it might be the most Irish-American spot in all of Ireland, through certainly not the most scenic or historic.

Barack Obama in Moneygall in 2011.

Obama, who also visited Northern Ireland in June 2013 for a G8 summit, leaves office 20 January, the inaugural of President-elect Donald Trump, who owns a golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare. O’Malley will leave his Dublin post a few days earlier due to a demanded from the incoming administration that all non-career ambassadors depart immediately.

IrishCentral, citing a tweet from New York Times writer Maggie Haberman, reports the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will be philanthropist and businessman Brian Burns, the grandson of an emigrant from Sneem, County Kerry.  Burns, 80, and his wife, Eileen, have been close friends of Trump through the Palm Beach and Mar-A-Lago connection.

O’Malley, a St. Louis trial lawyer whose grandparents emigrated from County Mayo in the early 20th century, was appointed by Obama in June 2014 after a record-setting 18-month gap following the departure former ambassador and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

The speechwriter behind Obama’s Irish references

Barack Obama has given some 3,000 speeches since entering the White House in 2009, and about 1 percent of them have included strong references to Ireland. That might not seem like much at first glance, but there’s hardly another country or subject that gets as many mentions from the presidential podium.

Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan, left, interviewed by Simon Carswell, Washington correspondent for The Irish Times.

Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan, left, interviewed by Simon Carswell, Washington correspondent for The Irish Times.

“The Irish have a stranglehold on one full day,” Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan told the 15 September gathering of Irish Network-DC. “They get three speeches on St. Patrick’s Day.”

That’s 24 speeches over eight years. Other notable Obama talks involving Ireland have included his May 2011 visit to the Republic and June 2013 trip to Northern Ireland, plus his 2009 eulogy of Sen. Ted Kennedy and  2015 remarks at the funeral of Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden.

For Keenan, an Irish-American with ancestral roots to Dublin and Cork, the 2011 College Green speech was a plum assignment. “It’s rare you get to write about something you have such personal passion about,” he said.

Keenan noted that the president “is his own chief speechwriter. … We take all our cues from him.”

Obama move scuttles merger of U.S. & Irish drug companies

New York drug maker Pfizer and Dublin-based Allergan have called off their proposed $160 billion merger, which would have headquartered the new company in Ireland to slash its U.S. tax bill. The deal collapsed days after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps to curb such tax-avoiding maneuvers, called “inversions.”

The outcome is “a major win for President Barack Obama, who has been pushing to curb deals in which companies move overseas to cut taxes,” Reuters reported.

barack-obama-immigration-irish-woman-2-390x285.jpg (390×285)

Obama in Ireland in 2011.

For Ireland, the importance “is more in the signal it sends about the hardening international approach to multinational tax than in the specific implications from the collapse of the deal,” Cliff Taylor writes in The Irish Times. “It demonstrates again that the days of using tax as the main attraction for companies to locate here are coming to an end – and that there may well be significant implications for existing big Irish employers in the changes to come.”

The corporate tax rate in Ireland is 12.5 percent. In the U.S., business taxes range from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent. Northern Ireland plans to cut its business rate to 12.5 percent in 2018 to be more competitive with the Republic. But that’s now said to be threatened by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union in a June referendum.

March is Irish-American Heritage Month


Obama did mentioned “the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising” in his 15 March remarks to the Irish delegation.


March is Irish-American Heritage Month, which means an annual proclamation from the White House and corresponding fact sheet from the U.S. Census Bureau.

I was a little surprised that President Barack Obama’s proclamation does not mention the centennial of the Easter Rising, which certainly relied on strong support from the Irish in America. But I suppose such a reference would not be diplomatic in our relations with Britain.

Kenny meets Obama at White House

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Barack Obama have completed the annual St. Patrick’s holiday meeting at the White House.

Obama said he was “disappointed” that all-party talks in Northern Ireland failed to reach agreement at the end of last year. Kenny said the two leaders privately addressed immigration reform and the situation in Ukraine.

Here’s the full transcript of their public remarks.

Kenny and Obama. White House photo.

Kenny and Obama.                                                                          White House photo.

Obama’s dis-connect from Ireland

Is it possible that U.S. President Barack Obama will allow a second St. Patrick’s Day to come and go without naming an ambassador to Ireland?

The diplomatic post has been open been since mid December 2012, when Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney stepped down after three and a half years. Several names have been floated since then for the job, but still no appointment. And the clock is ticking up to March 17.

Obama and Rooney. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Obama and Rooney. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Brian O’Dwyer, head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and a Democratic Party activist, said Obama’s failure to appoint an ambassador was “an absolute disgrace and a real and total disrespect to the Irish American community.” Irish Central‘s Niall O’Down reported the comments in his Periscope column of October 17, 2012. The column also quoted Stella O’Leary, founder of Irish-American Democrats (O’Dwyer is on the board): “There is no shortage of qualified Irish Americans for the job. There has been no communication, no reason given for the delay and this has been to the severe disadvantage of Irish America and Ireland,” she said.

Stuart Dwyer assumed the ambassador’s duties as Chargés d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin on September 5, 2013. That’s the same day that Anne Anderson was appointed by the Irish government as Ambassador to the United States, the first woman in the role.

The Obamas flank Anne Anderson. Image from Irish Central.

The Obamas flank Anne Anderson. Irish Central image.

Obama in Northern Ireland for G8, addresses peace process

A lot of media coverage came rolling out of Northern Ireland as U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders gathered for the G8 summit June 17-18. First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters also visited the Republic of Ireland.

Barack Obama

There were plenty of security concerns before the summit. Who could imagine such an international gathering in Northern Ireland in past decades? While the two-day event was a costly inconvenience to residents of nearby Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, there was no violence.

A bomb was found near the Lough Erne resort hosting the summit, but it turned out to be a remnant from a World War II mortar range.

Links to some of the best Ireland- and Northern Ireland-related stories follow below:

  • “Northern Ireland has languished out of the headlines and a gradual erosion of the peace process has taken place,” writes Irish Central founder Niall O’Dowd. “That is why the visit of President Obama is so vital.”
  • Michelle Obama, Bono and families lunch at Dalkey pub.
  • Significant progress has been made in the 15 years since the U.S.-brokered Good Friday Accords, including a Catholic-Protestant government and the disarmament of the IRA and outlawed Protestant groups responsible for most of the 3,700 death toll. But tearing down Belfast’s nearly 100 “peace lines” — barricades of brick, steel and barbed wire that divide neighborhoods, roads and even one Belfast playground — is still seen by many as too dangerous. Obama cited that playground in his speech, lauding an activist whose work led to the opening of a pedestrian gate in the fence.
  • Obama: “If there’s one thing on which Democrats and Republicans in America wholeheartedly agree, it’s that we strongly support a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland. … We will keep working closely with leaders in Stormont, and Dublin, and Westminster to support your political progress.”
  • The Irish Times reports U.S. President Barack Obama to press for renewed efforts to end community division in the north.
  • Great headline on security-related story from the BBC: Lock down on Lough Erne.