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Obama to visit Ireland to explore roots

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media after their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 17, 2011. Kenny was recently elected the new Irish Prime Minister. UPI/Olivier Douliery/POOL
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media after their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 17, 2011. Kenny was recently elected the new Irish Prime Minister. UPI/Olivier Douliery/POOL | License Photo

WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama -- or maybe O'Bama -- kept up a St. Patrick's Day tradition by welcoming Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the White House.

While praising the "incredible bond" the two countries share, Obama also announced Thursday he plans to check out his roots when he travels to Ireland in May as part of a European trip for a Group of Eight summit.

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The U.S. president touted Ireland's efforts on the worldwide stage, focusing on Ireland's role in Afghanistan and bilateral cooperation on issues such as international food security.

"So, overall, the state of the relationship between our two countries is extraordinarily strong," Obama said. "This is a wonderful tradition each St. Patrick's Day for me to be able to once again reaffirm the great warmth and affection that we have towards the people of Ireland."

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Obama said he wants to see not only the known sites in Ireland, but also visit Moneygall, "where my great-great-great-great-great grandfather hails from."

He said Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the room, "is envious because he wants to go first."

Obama also expressed his belief that "Ireland is going to be bouncing back from severe economic challenges."

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Kenny said he was pleased to "continue to build" on the strong relationships in business, politics and culture between the countries.

"My message to the American people is that the new government, which I lead, which has the strongest mandate in the history of the state, will continue to build on the very strong traditional links that we've had with the United States in business and in politics and in culture and the arts, and so on," the prime minister, called Taoiseach in Ireland, said.

"Ireland is open for business," Kenny said.

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He also said he'd welcome a round of golf with Obama in May.

"I hear Taoiseach is pretty good, so I've got to be careful," said Obama, an avid golfer. "I may have to practice before I play with him."

During an evening reception at the East Room of the White House, Obama acknowledged prominent Americans of Irish descent -- including the Kennedy family, automobile industry pioneer Henry Ford, inventor Cyrus McCormick, actor Audie Murphy and the late U.S. House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill.

"On behalf of the American people I want to thank the people of Ireland. In the years ahead, may our sons and daughters only grow closer," Obama said.

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Kenny spoke of two peoples crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come to America: "The Irish for freedom; the Africans for slavery. Though they didn't know it, in time theirs were the genes that would build this great country of the United States of America."

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