US president Barack Obama has been invited to a sheep shearing event in Mayo during his whistle-stop tour of Ireland next month.
The annual Connacht Sheep Shearing Championships take place in Ballinrobe on Sunday May 22 on the same weekend that the most powerful man in the world is expected to visit his ancestral homeland.
Organisers of the agricultural event decided to invite Obama due to his farm livestock links as his great-great-great-grandfather Fulmouth Kearney from Co Offaly may have kept sheep before he emigrated to the US in the 1850s, and his African family herded goats in Kenya. Mr Obama may also decide to visit Mayo because it is the home constituency of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and because the parents of Patricia Rooney - wife of staunch supporter US ambassador Dan Rooney - were born there.
One of the organiser's of the sheep event, Paddy Rock said: “We believe both sides of the president's family reared livestock so it is fitting that we extend this invitation as hand shearing was a way of life for his ancestors and he would receive a lesson in the art from local champion shearer Peter Hearty from Westport.”
He added: “His helicopter could land in the racecourse in Ballinrobe and he could well stay in the nearby Ashford Castle which was good enough for Ronnie Reagan in 1984.
“If Michelle Obama comes with him we could install her as a celebrity judge for the Junior Shepherd or 'Little Bo Peep' competition,” Mr Rock added.
At the event at Ballinrobe Racecourse America's first couple could also enjoy a tug-of-war, sheepdog trials, a dog show and some welly throwing as well.
Mr Rock said locals were already preparing light-hearted 'Ballinrobe Welcomes Barack' banners in anticipation of a possible visit. However it has emerged that Obama, who will be following in the footsteps of other presidents who visited Ireland such as John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, may only stay on Irish soil for as little as half a day due to pressures on his time. His itinerary is speculated to include a public address at Croke Park or the Aviva stadium in Dublin, a courtesy call to President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin and the emotional trip to trace his roots in Moneygall. Obama also has Kilkenny links as his great-great-great-granduncle Bishop John Kearney is buried in St Canice’s Cathedral in the city. Advance teams of White House security staff and protocol officials are already in Ireland to begin planning every detail of the president's visit.