Tourists and locals pose for photographs with an Obama cutout in Moneygall Photo by: Kim Haughton for the Guardian

Moneygall is Obama central as locals get ready


Tourists and locals pose for photographs with an Obama cutout in Moneygall Photo by: Kim Haughton for the Guardian

Read more: President Obama's men spend time in Moneygall

Read more: Washington keeps details of President Obama’s trip secret

Moneygall, County Offaly:If you build it the president will come.

The inhabitants of this tiny town on the borders of Offaly and Tipperary believed they could prove a link to President Obama’s ancestral home through his mother’s roots.

The dream was that if they could prove the link that some day the most powerful man on earth would drop in to see for himself.

It was a massive longshot, a million to one chance, but on May 23rd the president will come.

There is not much to see in Moneygall, up the main street and down the same street as the idiom goes, though the surrounding countryside is beautiful, lush and green.

There are lots of Hayes’, two publicans and a car sales company who bear that last name.
Ollie Hayes will shortly be one of the most famous Moneygall men ever.

His bar is the beating heart of the town. On Sunday the clientele were not in the least disturbed when this Irish American dropped in. They are getting used to the notoriety.

A day later the secret service advance team arrived for the obligatory advance tour. The day before I visited the American Ireland Fund CEO had dropped by.

Ollie Hayes is taking it all in stride. A big, bluff man, he makes time to stop and talk to the perfect strangers who are dropping in more and more frequently to his establishment.

The walls are festooned with Obama picture and Obama in Ireland T shirts are already on sale behind the counter.

His wife Majella tends bar while Ollie entertains the guests. His pub is already famous and there’s even a new song by the Corrigan Brothers, poet laureates of the Obama visit about Ollie’s new espresso coffee machine, installed specially for the visit.

Henry Healy, Obama’s closest living relative in Ireland drops in to say hello. He attended the inauguration and is very hopeful that he will get to shake hands with the man himself when he lands in Moneygall

The locals proudly point out the house where Obama’s ancestor left from, just a few yards up from Ollie Hayes pub.

Shannon Development has installed a plaque outside that traces the links directly to the 44th president of the United States.

The house itself is nondescript but will be a massive focus for world media when Obama arrives on May 23rd. He is expected to come by helicopter, land in the local sports field and drive to the town.

A visit to Ollie Hayes’s for the obligatory pint of Guinness seems on the cards too.

He will get a warm and genuine welcome I suspect.  All the houses in the village are being offered a free coat of fresh paint by Dulux, the paint company.

At a time when towns all over Ireland like Moneygall are feeling the recession his visit is very good news indeed,

There are signs of that recession in Moneygall, down a side street is a ‘ghost estate’ a half finished housing project like so many others in Ireland that will never be completed because of the recession.

The signs on the gates warn people to keep out and a little wasteland of half built houses and empty lots sprawl across the landscape.

That reality will be suspended for the length of the Obama visit, the ultimate ‘feel good’ moment for the tiny town.

Soon after he announced his run for president local historians proved that Falmouth Kearney had left the village in the 1850s to follow family members to Ohio.

There were many other places in Ireland that the current president could have been linked, too, Trinity College in Dublin where an ancestor was president, nearby Shinrone where the family plot is, Kilkenny City where an ancestor’s tomb has been located.


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