Last Thursday Tony Donovan boarded a plane bound for Ireland. Almost two decades after emigrating from Co. Offaly, he was off to meet President Barack Obama in Donovan’s hometown of Moneygall.
Leaving his heavily pregnant wife Patty behind in their Delaware family home -- she is expecting twins -- he admits it was a hard decision before adding, “There is no trump card bigger than the president visiting my home village!”
When Donovan spoke to the Irish Voice on Tuesday, he had just arrived back on U.S. soil after a whirlwind trip to his native home with the gravity of the Obama visit still sinking in.
“I spoke with him and he signed my ticket for the event which is something I will always treasure,” said Donovan, who was so elated to shake Obama’s hand.
“I told him I was so proud that my president came to Moneygall. He asked me where I lived in the U.S. and when I told him Delaware he told me Joe Biden will be happy to hear that!”
Donovan, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, flew home especially for the trip. His own family home on Main Street in Moneygall, now owned by his brother John, was the place were Obama’s ancestor Falmouth Kearney lived before leaving Ireland in 1850.
In the heart of the action, the ex-pat had a busy time helping out in his brother’s shop Donovan’s, selling Barack’s brack and other souvenirs.
“It was an experience that I couldn’t have imagined could have ever occurred in the little village that I grew up in,” says Donovan.
“There was a collective surge of adrenaline through the village when then motorcade pulled up and Obama jumped out.
“It was as if Tipperary had just scored the winning goal against Kilkenny in a close All-Ireland final, it was so amazing.”
Considering the enormity of the security operation, the large crowd that gathered in Moneygall were not sure what to expect once the Obamas arrived. But what followed, according to Donovan, far surpassed their expectations.
“Immediately he dived into the crowd. He lifted children up,” Donovan told the Irish Voice.
“The Secret Service were beside themselves with worry but the barrier almost didn’t exist,” he added.
With the rain beating down on them, the Obamas seemed unfazed by the bitter Irish climate.
“They never flinched from the rain and they were 100 percent engaged with everyone,” Donovan said.
“The president even made the effort to get to those further back from the rail.”
Speaking about the warm Irish welcome that the people of Moneygall extended to the Obamas,
Donovan said it was great to see how engaged both President Obama and the first lady were with the crowd.
“After a long flight, they had traveled down and were so happy, open and comfortable to meet everyone. It was testament to them as a couple,” he said.
Donovan, who owns his own real estate company, splits his time between New York and his home in Delaware. He travels home to Ireland at least twice a year.
On his last visit home to Moneygall earlier this year he said the atmosphere was downcast, with the news of Ireland’s multi-billion bailout making headlines around the world.
“I was home the first week of March, prior to the announcement of the president’s trip and there was an air of despondency throughout the country,” Donovan said.
“People couldn’t figure out the bailout and it had an impact on every community. Ten weeks later and to see people with a spring in their step and a smile on their face was great.”
The days, weeks and months of preparation that went into the preparation of Moneygall for the visit of its ancestor cannot be underestimated.
Locals rallied together, ensuring every area of the town was looking its best for the president’s brief stopover. Paying tribute to the hard work of the local community, Donovan says the organizing committee in the Offaly village are the unsung heroes.
He referred to one local, Michael Bergin, watering flower beds in the small Offaly village in the early and late hours of the day in preparation.
“He had such a sense of pride in his home village,” Donovan said in praise.
Speaking about Obama’s public address in Dublin, Donovan said it “was a speech that could be viewed among the Irish diaspora as very Kennedy-esque.”
“There is no doubt after seeing him interact with the native Irish that he had Irish blood.”
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