Barack Obama’s embrace of his Irish roots was expected to lead to a massive surge of good economic times in Moneygall the little Offaly town his ancestor Falmouth Kearney called home.
But as The New Yorker magazine reports this week, the economic upsurge has all seemingly been scooped up by the spanking new Obama Plaza center on the outskirts of town with its meeting places, filling station, visitor center and store while the rest of the town loses out.
As New Yorker reported the Plaza has been a spectacular success, but businesses in the town itself have suffered badly as a result.
The plaza is described by New Yorker writer Chris Colin thusly: ”The multimillion-dollar complex opened on the outskirts of town three years after the visit. Only technically is the futuristic-looking structure just a rest stop. Inside, diners can find proper Irish meals, in addition to fast food, and a spacious dining room with actual silverware. Upstairs, there’s a suite of meeting rooms, should anyone need to conduct a meeting.
Down the hall, an extensive visitors center showcases all things Obama-plus-Moneygall. There’s an exhibit on other famous locals, a bust of Obama, a giant photo of (Obama relative) Henry Healy shaking the President’s hand.”
On each visit to the Plaza, the New Yorker writer finds it jammed with people from tourists viewing the visitors center to locals using the venue for meetings, to diners stopping off for a meal and a selfie at Ireland's most famous rest stop.
One hundred and twelve people, many locals, are employed there .
However, the story elsewhere in the village seems grim. Mary Murray who runs a local bed and breakfast says many businesses are barely hanging on as the Obama Plaza dominates economic life.
The Obama Cafe in the town center which still had fourteen American flags outside is actually closed down and for sale.
The antiques store has also closed as has the art gallery. The tours of Obama’s ancestral home have been abandoned.
Mary Bergin who runs a convenience store says she is the only one of five businesses on main street left.
The Obama tourist business in Moneygall, Ireland started with hope and optimism but now is Sale or Lease. pic.twitter.com/s4XvQn4yBI— John Foley (@FoleyJohnP) August 3, 2015
“I’m the last one left and I’m barely hanging on” she says.
Gus Hayes the bar owner who served Obama the historic pint of Guinness during his visit in May 2011 is still doing well as he got major international coverage. Gus and Obama relative Henry Healy struck up an unlikely friendship with the Obamas and became frequent visitors to the White House.
(Obama drank most of the pint in Gus's bar, much to the surprise of his handlers, it was later floated that the reason was the helicopter flight down from Dublin in high winds was so scary (as attested to by others) that the president was mighty relieved to get back on Terra Firma.)
New Yorker notes the Obama connection still draws out-of-towners to the bar. “We’ve all become tour guides,” Hayes said. “It’s brought everyone together. Just one of the ways everything changed that day.”
Chris Colin the New Yorker reporter finds evidence however that all is definitely not well in the town itself. He mounts a vigil for an hour one morning while the plaza fills up, the only person on the street in the village is the mailman.
So much like his presidency, Obama leaves a mixed legacy in his Irish ancestral hometown. Hope and change came to Moneygall too, but not in equal measure for everyone.