20 November 1997 Edition

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Lavery snowbound in USA

By Christy Mac an Bhaird

After years of talking about it, months of procrastination, and weeks of toing and froing at the US consulate, North Belfast Councillor Bobby Lavery finally landed in the USA - in the middle of a snow storm.

Lavery arrived in New York on Saturday on his way to Akron, Ohio. According to Kevin Gaffney of the AOH in Akron, Lavery landed in New York but did not have a plane ticket to continue to Cleveland. Several AOH members bundled into a car and drove for eight and a half hours to pick him up. He finally arrived in Akron amid the region's first snow of the year.

Commenting on his first trip to the US Lavery said, ``It's brilliant. They were all very generous in their welcome and in their support. The next time I come back, I'd prefer there were less restrictions on my visa.''

He didn't get his visa approved in Belfast until Friday at 2:45pm. ``I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it. The consulate held back my visa until the last minute and then there was a rush to get the tickets, but I'm glad to be here.''

He was unable to get the ticket for Cleveland before he flew out and his friends in Akron had difficulty buying the ticket over the phone. ``The airlines wanted verification and I had to be there to buy the ticket,'' he said.

During his eight day visit he will meet local politicians and business people who have an interest in Irish affairs and he will address Akron City Council's weekly meeting.

Many of Lavery's friends and supporters are expected to meet with him during his stay. One group from Columbus headed out on Saturday afternoon during the snow storm, determined to make a scheduled event at the Stow Army that was being hosted by the St Brendan's Division of the AOH, which Lavery was expected to attend.

Over the last four years, Bobby Lavery has got to know scores of Americans who traveled to Belfast on the Irish People Belfast March Tour each August. The tour travels with an American host and a host from Sinn Fein. For the past four years Lavery has been the Sinn Fein representative.

Larry Quinn, editor of the Irish People, said, ``It's quite conceivable that Bobby Lavery could land in any city in the USA and find a friend. He's probably met several hundred Americans in Belfast just from the tour and every one of them considers him a friend.''

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