This coming Monday, May 23, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will arrive in Ireland for an official state visit, the highlight of which may be a stop in the tiny village of
Moneygall, Co. Offaly, the birthplace of Obama’s great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney, son of the village shoemaker, who emigrated to New York in 1850.
Unlike the Queen’s visit this week, the Irish public seems genuinely excited about the president’s imminent arrival. After all, until recently the prospect of a black president visiting his ancestral home in Ireland would have seemed like a far-fetched plot line in a movie, but on Monday it will happen.
Add to that unlikely scenario the Irish appetite for some good news in the midst of all the economic gloom and a long running clergy abuse crisis, and it seems certain that Obamamania, as the papers are calling it, is certain to break out.
But Moneygall locals hoping to catch a glimpse of the leader of the free world are already expressing concern about the invasive nature of the president’s security detail, many of whom are already in the Offaly village where they have placed severe restrictions on daily movements.
At least 50 U.S. officials and security personnel arrived in the village last weekend to review the ongoing security arrangements with assistance from representatives from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the American Embassy, the White House and even Offaly County Council.
U.S. media outlets CNN, ABC, BBC, Reuters, the Boston Globe and Time magazine are among the many outlets that arrived in the village on Monday to prepare for the international coverage that Tourism Ireland, the Irish tourist board, is hoping will feature Irish hospitality in a flattering light.
Meanwhile, the local shops and houses in the entire village of Moneygall are getting a fresh coat of paint courtesy of Dulux paint makers, and the souvenir shops along the tiny main street are already full of keepsakes and mementos to commemorate the visit. Even the local bakery has begun selling Obama brown bread -- “Healthy Irish Bread Fit For a President,” their enterprising tag line read.
Tourists to the village can now buy T-shirts proclaiming “Is Feider Linn!” the Irish for Obama’s famous political cry “Yes we can!”
To set the scene a large billboard detailing the Obama connection to the area has been erected outside the old homestead of his ancestors, a modest two-story house.
But despite all the bunting and the atmosphere of celebration in Moneygall, the locals are growing increasingly anxious they’ll be overshadowed by arriving VIPs, local Canon Stephen Neill told the press.
“I would hate to see the local people being displaced by VIPs. It is very much a personal, private visit, very much about the people of Moneygall welcoming the president home. It is very important that this doesn’t get hijacked by VIPs,” he added.
It has not been confirmed whether Obama will speak publicly on the streets of the village, but the locals claim they have been told it will be a low-profile event. The president's main speaking engagement is expected to be in Dublin after the trip to Moneygall.
The final details of Obama’s Irish itinerary have not been released yet due to security considerations, but at present he is expected to address a mass rally in O’Connell Street in Dublin, one of the largest thoroughfares in Europe.
The White House is conducting a conference call with Irish American leaders on Wednesday to discuss the trip’s particulars. The call will be headed by Denis McDonough, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
Meanwhile, Irish police have conducted an arrest as they prepare a full-scale security operation for
Obama’s trip. As part of an investigation of threats to kill or cause harm to the president they searched a house in Dublin last Thursday where they arrested Khalid Kelly, 44, an Irish born al-Qaeda sympathizer, who is being questioned about remarks in the press last week describing Obama as an enemy of Islam. Under Irish anti-terror laws, Kelly can be questioned for 72 hours without charge.
The thousands of people hoping to watch the president’s historic address to the nation, wherever it is eventually held, will have to pass through airport-style body scans first. That means that regardless of the eventual location of Obama’s speech, the thousands of people attending will face hours of queues comparable to the president’s own inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.