Irish Times: When Air Force One touches down in Dublin next month, a frail but sprightly gentleman nearing his 80th birthday will be on the tarmac to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. For US ambassador Dan Rooney, that moment will rank right up there with his Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl.
The first time Rooney met Obama (then running as a candidate) was in Pittsburgh in September 2007: “I told him, ‘You gotta go to Ireland.’ He said, ‘I will, and I’ll go with you.’”
….Rooney used his prestige as the owner of the Steelers to win over crucial working-class areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for Obama’s election. He arrived in Dublin, as the ambassador of a grateful president, on July 2nd, 2009, with two goals: to visit every county in Ireland, and to welcome a presidential visit.
Obama “is a friend, in addition to being the president”, Rooney explains. “I want him to have a good time . . . enjoy himself. He’s got a hard trip following.”
…The US president and first lady are expected to reside with the Rooneys in the ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. On Saint Patrick’s Day in 2010, Rooney recalls, Obama said, “Yes, I am coming to Ireland, and I’m staying at his house.”
As the ambassador notes, it already has very good security. Built in 1776 by a British colonel, the ambassador’s home is rented from the Irish Government for a symbolic one dollar each year. Presidents Kennedy, Clinton and George Bush snr have slept in the presidential suite, as well as Princess Grace and Bing Crosby.
…The ambassador loves his life in Ireland, but as Obama’s unconditional fan, he’s thinking of returning to the US soon. “I would probably have to resign to campaign for President Obama’s re-election,” Rooney says. “I think that would be the number one thing I can do for him, and I’d be willing to do so. He’s the best man for the job, without question.”
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