Monday, May 23, 2011

President Obama in Dear Old Moneygall - Offaly Nice, I Suppose.

Obama in Moneygall, Today. As real as he gets.

You might call Monday the fun day of President Obama’s Europe tour.

The president will spend an hour in the Irish town of Moneygall, where it is believed his great-great-great grandfather grew up. The town has excitedly anticipated his arrival, with people waiting hours in line for tickets to Obama’s speech there. The local newspaper, the Ofally Independent, put out a special edition Friday in which the paper dubbed itself “The Obama Independent.” (Moneygall is in a county called Ofally.)

“This is a homecoming of sorts for President Obama. He’s very excited to see this small town in Ireland from which he has roots, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing some of the people of Moneygall and making a stop there,” said Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s top national security aides.

Obama, who arrived in Ireland Monday at 9:29 a.m. local time (4:29 a.m. in Washington) will also give a public speech in Dublin, highlighting relations between Ireland and the United States.

Offaly Nice -

President Barack Obama's Irish eighth cousin toured either side of the tiny village of Moneygall, picking out pavements to be repaired and houses to be repainted in preparation for the visit of the most powerful man on Earth.

With a population of just 300, the residents will be heavily outnumbered by the US president's own entourage when Obama returns to his Irish roots in May.

The village is bisected by the old Dublin to Limerick road, where part of the old homestead of Obama's Irish ancestors still stands. Moneygall has become a tourist trap two months before Air Force One touches down in the Republic.

Henry Healy, accompanied by officials from Offaly county council, was helping to spruce up the village for Obama's arrival. Since the president announced on St Patrick's Day that he would visit Ireland in two months' time Obamamania has been building in this quiet corner of the Irish midlands. On Friday night the locals held their first public meeting to discuss the trip.

Healy, who traces his family links back to the president's Irish ancestors, the Kearneys, was a guest of Obama when he was sworn into office in Washington DC. The president's great-great-great grandfather (on his mother's side) is said to have been born in Ireland. "Our family connection is very distant but … we do share the same lineage," said Healy. "Our ancestry is shared by the Healy and the Kearney families way back to 1761. Sarah Healy would be five-eighths grandmother of Barack Obama. I still think it's sort of surreal to say you have some connection to the president of the United States. "

Healy said the Obama connection had brightened up the lives of Moneygall's people at a time of national economic hardship. "When the primaries started in 2008 our village wasn't like the rest of Ireland. We were not talking about recession or doom and gloom. We were talking about the American presidential campaign all the way from Iowa to the White House. It was a massive boost to our morale in these dark times."

No US presidential visit to Ireland would be complete without a photo of him supping a pint at the bar. JFK, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have all been snapped by the world's cameras knocking back beer amid cheering Irish locals. Inside Olli Hayes's bar on Main Street Obama memorabilia dominates the walls, with framed pictures from his presidential campaign, paintings of the first black US president and the latest addition, a cast-iron bust of him at the end of the bar.

"I hope nobody lifts that up one day and hits me on the head with it like they did with the bust of Queen Victoria in that murder on EastEnders," jokes Hayes.

Another stop on Obama's Moneygall tour will be Templeharry Anglican church, just over a mile outside the village. It was here that Church of Ireland minister Stephen Neill unearthed Obama's roots in 2007. Inside the church, built around 1800, Neill produces the dust-laden parish record books which he used to trace Obama's lineage to the village.

"We have the baptismal records which include the Kearney relatives and back in April 2007 it transpired that this lineage related to Barack Obama through Falmouth Kearney, who emigrated to America. So on these pews, inside this very church, the president's antecedents on his Irish side worshipped here on a regular basis."

Obama's links to the Church of Ireland also stretch further south to Kilkenny city, where another branch of the family claims a connection to him. Jane de Montmorency Wright said she had traced Obama to the former Anglican bishop of Kilkenny, John Kearney. "The president's ancestor was a bishop here in Kilkenny city where he is buried in St Canice's cathedral, so there will be plenty for him to see," she said.

Hayes and Moneygall's other 299 residents are expecting droves of other Americans to follow in the president's footsteps. A few hours earlier two couples from Chicago, the base from which Obama launched his presidential bid, turned up to have their pictures taken outside the bar.

• This article was amended on 29 March 2011. The original referred to President Barack Obama's Irish cousin (eight times removed). This has been corrected.

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