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With president at G8, Michelle Obama enjoys Irish links

U.S. President Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, speaks to guests at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Faith/Pool
U.S. President Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, speaks to guests at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Faith/Pool

By Sam Cage

DUBLIN (Reuters) - With the president locked in high-level meetings at a secluded hotel in Northern Ireland, first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters took the chance to investigate their Irish roots.

After arriving in Belfast with her husband on Monday, Obama crossed the border to Dublin to speak to university experts on the president's ancestors, attend a show of traditional Riverdance step dancing and visit the nearby Wicklow mountains.

"It's good to be home," the first lady told a cheering audience of schoolchildren before the Riverdance performance. "You are surrounded by such a beautiful country."

Over the course of centuries, millions of Irish have emigrated to the United States in search of a better life and there are huge communities in cities such Chicago, where Barack Obama started his political career.

His great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney emigrated from Moneygall, a tiny town in central Ireland which the Obamas visited in 2011, to New York City in 1850. Some schoolchildren from Moneygall attended the Riverdance performance.

"It was a magical visit but the only problem was it was far too short," the president said of his 2011 trip, in a speech in Belfast before heading to a G8 meeting near Enniskillen. "We've been eager to return to the Emerald Isle ever since, and this time we've brought our daughters."

The first lady and daughters Malia and Sasha - casually dressed in jeans and jackets against the rainy Irish weather, in contrast to their mother's sharp suit - were given a tour of the vaulted, book-lined library at Trinity College.

Having seen the Book of Kells, an ancient illuminated manuscript book created by Celtic monks in about 800 AD that is one of Ireland's top tourist draws, they examined specially prepared records of the family's Irish ancestors.

These showed that John Kearney, who was provost of Ireland's most prestigious university in the 18th century, was an ancestor of the president.

The first lady has enjoyed a steady positive approval rating over the past four years, even at times when her husband sank in the polls.

"I think it would be a good opportunity to introduce someone who accompanied me here today - as I let him travel with me now and again," she joked in Belfast, before her husband's speech.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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