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Kenny takes greatest gift of all from cordial talks

ENDA Kenny got the gift pretty much every politician in the world wants yesterday: a cordial meeting with the most powerful man in the world.

But his wife, Fionnuala O'Kelly, got the gift every woman in the world wants: a kiss on the cheek from Barack Obama and a photo with the US president's arm around her shoulder.

When the first couple arrived at Farmleigh House, to be greeted by the Kennys, there was some shuffling of positions for the official photo. Ms O'Kelly swapped from standing beside Mr Kenny to standing next to Mr Obama.

"I would, too. Fionnuala's no fool," a female admirer of the president observed.

It's easy to know, though, that Mr Kenny is a gaelic football player, rather than a hurler.

On the way out the door of their meeting at the state guesthouse, the Taoiseach gave Mr Obama a gift of a hurley.

The hurley was made from native ash from Co Clare. The White House press corps accompanying Mr Obama were told hurling was "a mix of lacrosse and soccer".

Adding to the confusion, Mr Kenny taught the left-handed Mr Obama the wrong way to hold a hurley. And the only flick of the wrists he showed him was a chop, rather than a swing.

Showing his Offaly roots, from a bastion of hurling on the border with Tipperary, Mr Obama took to the game like a natural. Breaking clear of his minders, he strode to the front of 'The Beast', the president's indestructible limousine, and holding the hurley like a baseball bat took a swing.

"If members of Congress aren't behaving, I'll give them a little pat, a little hurl," he said.

Mr Kenny had ideas about getting Mr Obama back for a game of a different sort.

"Like all politicians, we have some unfinished business, and that is that next time he comes back, he has promised to bring his golf clubs," he said.

The Taoiseach and president had just emerged from a 45-minute meeting.

Sitting on armchairs in the dining room of the ancestral home of the Guinness family, built in 1881, Mr Kenny and Mr Obama looked relaxed as they reflected on their talks.

Mr Kenny appeared to momentarily adopt his JFK accent as he went through the topics up for debate, including the economy, Northern Ireland and the Middle East. The discussion also covered Ireland's relationship with the US, Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland and Mr Obama's El Paso speech on immigration.

Mr Obama said how "inspired" the Americans were by the progress made in Northern Ireland.

"It speaks to the possibilities of peace and people in long-standing struggles that they can re-imagine their relationships.

"Seeing the queen coming here and to see the mutual warmth and healing that took place during that visit, to know the former Taoiseach (Garret) FitzGerald was able to witness that sends a signal not just in England, not just here in Ireland but around the world.

"It sends what Bobby Kennedy once called a 'ripple of hope' that manifests itself in a whole range of places," he said in trademark rhetorical flourish.


While the Taoiseach and president talked policy, Ms O'Kelly and Mrs Obama went on a tour of the historic residence of the Iveagh family.

Aside from the hurley, the Obamas left Farmleigh with another gift. Mr Kenny explained that back in 1922, Trinity College's Padraig Colum was commissioned to collect myths and legends of Hawaii and write them as children's stories.

"He produced three volumes of children's stories, which I presented -- and I had the honour of a first edition -- not to the president, not to the first lady, but to his children, Malia and Sasha, stories of their daddy's birthplace. And I hope they enjoyed it," he said.

Mr Obama seemed to be impressed: "Well this is an extraordinary gift and it just confirms that if you need someone to do some good writing, hire an Irishman."

But Mr Kenny and Ms O'Kelly went away with the best gifts of all.

Irish Independent Supplement