THE plan to persuade US President Barack Obama to travel to Wexford in June for the 50th anniversary of the visit of one of his predecessors, John F Kennedy, raises the prospect of another intriguing chapter in the extraordinary history of Irish-US relations.
That it is being considered at all is a reminder of the endurance of the bonds that have been established over centuries between both countries, and the capacity of the Irish Government to continue to seek and be confident of access to the White House, despite Ireland's small size and relative insignificance in terms of overall US foreign policy.
Historically, Irish influence in the US was not solely the result of Famine emigration, after all, up to one million arrived before the Famine, and another three million arrived between 1855 and 1930.
Scholars of Irish America have often disagreed as to the nature of Irish power in the US and its uneven development. Was the east coast experience of the Irish in Boston and New York, for example, representative of the Irish experience as a whole? Or was it the case that a group like the San Francisco Irish had initially fared better in terms of social mobility?
After all, San Francisco had its first Irish mayor in 1867, while New York and Boston had to wait until 1880 and 1884 respectively. And yet, in terms of numbers, the east coast experience was more important; even as early as 1870, the number of Irish in New York was much bigger than the next six biggest Irish populated states combined.
Whatever about numbers, what was important was the manner in which the 19th Century immigrant Irish – the first immigrant group to arrive in the US in such large numbers – confronted the challenges that faced them, most notably the anti-Catholicism of much of Protestant America, by playing a skillful game politically and ensuring more solidarity between themselves than they often had at home. The Famine's impact remained a focus, psychologically and politically.
As Irish historian Joe Lee, now based in New York, has noted: "The first great wave of mass immigration to the US consisted of refugees from a Famine that seems to have killed a higher proportion of the Irish national population than any other natural catastrophe anywhere over the past three centuries; this means that the Famine must be considered a building block in the making of America."
Its legacy, and anger towards Britain, was a crucial factor in the financial support Irish-America provided for various Irish nationalist and republican movements.
Although the Irish could be factional in domestic politics, they could converge in the US around county and Irish identity, building on the politicisation and organisation that was a feature of Ireland from the 1820s Daniel O'Connell era; while Catholic, welfare, sporting and labour organisations sought to build further solidarity.
But could an Irish identity be sustained for those later generations long removed from Ireland? There were many tensions as a result of Irish neutrality, a policy which many Americans could not understand or accept, and JFK's visit in 1963 was about trying to heal some of those wounds as well as showcasing an Irish-American success story.
Yet there was concern after the JFK era about the demise of the Irish-American political profile. In 1970, Daniel Moynihan, elected a senator for New York two years later, was pessimistic, and described JFK's presidency as "the last hurrah" for Irish-Americans. He pointed out that just before Kennedy's death, the president, speaker of the House of Representatives and leader of the senate were "all Irish, all Catholic, all Democrat. It will not come again". It did not, but the importance of the Irish vote, the long Troubles in Northern Ireland and the subsequent peace process, allowed a new dimension to US involvement in Ireland, and Irish-American business success and cultural exports sustained the Irish appeal.
In more recent times, US interventions in Ireland and presidential visits have not had the same urgency in terms of the crisis in Northern Ireland or the possibility of political breakthroughs. During his visit in May 2011, Mr Obama preferred to focus on what he described as the "blood lineage" between Ireland and the US, and placed it in the context of the broader multi-racial and cultural origins of modern America of which Ireland forms an important part.
In that sense, trips to Ireland can still be seen as useful, and given that Mr Obama will be in Fermanagh for the G8 summit in June it is hardly surprising he will be asked to come south to continue to massage a US-Irish relationship that has a fascinating history.
Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at UCD