Tipperary hurling captain Eoin Kelly admitted he thought it was a prank call when an official from the American embassy in Dublin rang to say he was invited to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.
It wasn’t until the invitation arrived in the post a few days later that he started to make arrangements for the ceremony in Washington.
“Declan Ryan (the Tipp hurling manager) said it was the chance of a lifetime and an opportunity not to be missed and he gave me the go-ahead. It was an honour to be there and an unreal experience to visit the White House”, Eoin said this week.
He was accompanied on the trip by his wife Sarah (the couple were married in February) and he and Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan represented the GAA in the Irish delegation, headed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
“We were the lucky ones to be invited and it was great that the GAA was acknowledged. It was a day that will live long in the memory”, he added.
Despite suffering a compound fracture in a finger when playing against Offaly in the National League four days previously, Eoin still managed to shake hands with Barack Obama. He said it added to the unique atmosphere of the occasion when the American President announced he would come to Ireland in May, a visit that will include a trip to his ancestral homeland of Moneygall on the Offaly/Tipperary border.
Eoin brought a gift of Tipperary GAA memorabilia for the president.
After they passed the various security checks on their way into the White House Eoin said they were looked after by a fellow Tipperaryman, Declan Kelly, who’s originally from Portroe. Declan, the U.S. economic envoy to Northern Ireland and a former journalist with the Tipperary Star, Irish Examiner and Nenagh Guardian, introduced them to guests who included Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and Peter Robinson.
The musical entertainment included a performance by Dubliner Glen Hansard, who sang ‘Falling Slowly’, the song from the film Once that won him and Marketa Irglova the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2007.
Eoin said that the American vice-president Joe Biden, in conversation with Bernard Brogan, spoke about the possibility of an American football match being played at Croke Park.
Eoin’s finger injury is likely to keep him sidelined until Tipp’s final League match against Wexford on April 17.
Meanwhile, Munster MEP Sean Kelly has expressed his delight at the confirmation by President Obama of a visit to Ireland and Moneygall in May.
Mr. Kelly stressed the need for effective planning in relation to the tourism potential and spin-offs that could generate an economic boost in the region as a result of the visit. “Now that the trip is confirmed, tourism bodies in Ireland must immediately start planning how to market Tipperary and Ireland in conjunction with this fantastic opportunity. We must ensure the local tourist industry is supported in preparing a wonderful welcome for the President and the first lady and ensure it is a very memorable visit”, he said.