The Irishmen who went for a pint with President Barack Obama have spoken of their amazing St Patrick’s Day experience in Washington.
Henry Healy, President Obama’s distant cousin, and Ollie Hayes, the Irish publican who welcomed him to Moneygall last year, were VIP guests at the White House.
They were invited to the very heart of American politics in a series of secret emails, given an access-all-areas tour and accompanied President Obama for a Paddy’s Day pint in the city’s Dubliner bar.
Less than a year after Healy and Hayes drank Guinness with the President in his ancestral Irish homeland, the trio were re-united after Henry and Ollie received an invitation to join President Obama and First Lady Michelle for a St Patrick’s Day reception.
Plans to start their American tour in New York had to be cut short after the secret invite from the President as Healy told the Irish Independent newspaper.
“We weren’t even aware what was going to happen, we were sworn to secrecy,” said Healy.
“We arrived at 11.30am on Saturday to the north-west gates of the White House. We made our own way there and then Ollie and myself went through security clearance. We were brought into the West Wing - we went into the Oval Office and got a chance to walk around it.
“I saw the desk and all the things you see on TV, it was unbelievable. The act where President Lincoln signed for the freedom of slavery was there and lots of books, photographs and artefacts.”
Healy revealed how the pair also saw President Obama’s private office with lots of photographs of his family, a basketball on the floor and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography on his desk.
He added: “We really were given access all areas. There were letters on his desk. We were brought into a cabinet room and different areas of the White House that nobody would see on a tour. The only place we didn’t see was ‘the situation room’. It’s where the president watched the assassination of Osama bin Laden from.
“One of his aides gave the tour before we crossed the Rose Garden to the south entrance of the White House. The president then arrived in the room we were in and said: ‘Hey Ollie, hey Henry’.
“It was around 12.45pm - we couldn’t believe what had just happened - but we just took it in our stride.
“We had a brief little chat and then we got into the back of his car. Ollie sat beside him and I sat opposite him. I never seen anything like the motorcade, there were 16 or 17 vehicles and people on the streets were stopping and waving and the president was waving back.
“The windows were extremely thick, I’ve never seen glass as thick. It was the safest possible vehicle I’ll ever be in. We were around 10 minutes in the car and he spoke about his visit to Moneygall. He told us how one of his employees, with the wind, had been blown out of the helicopter when it was leaving and broke her wrist.”
During the car journey, the three chatted about the state of the Irish economy, golfer Rory McIlroy and the president’s visit to Moneygall last year.
“He said his visit to the Kearney homestead in Moneygall was really special for him,” added Healy.
“He asked us what people thought on the ground. He asked if we thought the Irish economy was recovering. He also quizzed us on what ordinary people were talking about on the street.
“We told him about the household charge and he said he couldn’t believe that people in Ireland don’t pay for water already. He said all those things were paid for in the US with the rates collected locally to fund services.”
Golfer Rory McIlroy, who met President Obama at the White House last week, also came up in conversation.
“He said he was taken aback by the height of him and how he was a phenomenal athlete even though he was a very small guy,” said Healy.
He added that Obama also talked about how he had been ‘campaigning very hard’ ahead of the upcoming US presidential election. “I told him to make sure and check out his living ancestors in Ohio as they’d get behind him,” he laughed.
All three then had a pint of Guinness before returning to the White House.
“Ollie was the only one who finished the pint,” said Henry. “We were not rushed. His staff told us there was no panic.
“We went back to the White House then with the president and there was a hug at the diplomatic entrance. He went back up to his own office, he was working there, and Ollie and I finished off with a tour of the Eisenhower building. It was a day I will never forget.”
Ollie Hayes told the Independent that he was still ‘in shock’ over meeting the US president again.
“He asked me about energy costs in Ireland. He wanted to know what it was like on my own scale of business. He asked about our future dependency on oil. He generally wanted to know what sort of job Enda Kenny was doing,” said Hayes.
President Obama also revealed that one of his daughters was on a school trip to an orphanage.
“He said it was no harm to let the children see the other side since they are well off. He was very easy to talk to, you wouldn’t feel a bit uncomfortable,” added Hayes who will meet President Obama for a third time on Tuesday when they attend a function in the White House along with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
“The one thing we forgot to ask him was whether he’ll visit Moneygall again so we’ll do that on Tuesday,” said Henry.