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Arnie tribute for Irish trailblazer

CALIFORNIA'S Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday paid tribute to another non-US-born citizen and immigrant who filled the office and paved the way for him.

John G Downey from Co Roscommon had "opened up opportunities for immigrants in our Golden State" but had always, despite his remarkable achievements in business and politics "remained proud of his home and his roots," Governor Schwarzenegger said.

American ambassador Dan Rooney unveiled a bronze bust of Taughmaconnell's (parish) and Castlesampson's (townland's) most famous son, John G Downey, who emigrated to the US in 1841 at the age of 14 and who less than 20 years later became the first foreign-born governor of the State of California.

Schwarzenegger followed in the Roscommon man's footsteps to become the second non-US-born citizen to be elected to the top political job in California in 2003.

In a message to the people of Taughmaconnell, read during the open air ceremony by Patricia Rooney, the wife of the ambassador, Governor Schwarzenegger praised Downey's staunch defence of the rights of the public and just economic conditions -- a reference to the then governor's controversial vetoing of the 'Bulkhead Bill' that would have placed San Francisco's waterfront in the control of the wealthy elite.

Having taken part in the gold rush to California, Downey soon decided there was no gold in the hills there for him.


However, he went on to make his fortune in the drugstore business, before branching out into real estate and ranching.

Many historians say Downey had pro-slavery instincts but he did side with the anti-slavery Union side during the American Civil War.

And yesterday the ambassador presented parish priest Fr Sean Neylon with a gift from his friend, the first African-America president of the US, a copy of Barack Obama's memoir 'The Audacity of Hope'.

President Obama was "a wonderful guy, a person with great integrity", the ambassador said, adding that both Ireland and the US were blessed with their presidents.

Junior Minister Michael Finneran stressed his connections with the area, saying he was born "just down the road".

And he later claimed a family connection with the Downeys. "But I didn't want to go on about it," he protested.

Irish Independent