President Barack Obama visitor centre opens in Moneygall, Co Offaly

First lady Michelle Obama leads the way for her husband US president Barack Obama in Moneygall, Co Offaly, in May 2011. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

First lady Michelle Obama leads the way for her husband US president Barack Obama in Moneygall, Co Offaly, in May 2011. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

It may be three years on but the legacy of President Barack Obama’s visit to a small village in Co Offaly lives on.

The people of Moneygall – population 320 – celebrated July 4th in true American style yesterday with the opening of the President Barack Obama Visitor Centre.

And locals had an extra reason to celebrate when the Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a surprise visit.

At junction 23 off the M7 motorway, the visitor centre is in the Barack Obama Plaza – a service station halfway between Dublin and Limerick.

The €7 million development, owned by Pat McDonagh, is considered to be one of the biggest investments in the midlands in recent years.

It’s hoped the visitor centre will attract tourists who wish to learn more about President Obama’s connections to Moneygall as well as the links of 22 of the former presidents’ of the US to Ireland .

Speaking at the opening Henry Healy, distant cousin of Mr Obama, said the visit of the most powerful man in the world to his ancestral home had huge benefits for the community.

And the 29-year-old – who celebrated St Patrick’s Day in the White House – is hopeful America’s most famous family will visit Moneygall’s latest tourist attraction.

The Taoiseach paid a brief visit to the centre yesterday. “We are always supportive of keeping our connections with the United States alive. When the first Kearney left these shores, things were very different so the re-establishment of that connection is something that is very important,” Mr Kenny said.

John Donovan, who owns Mr Obama’s ancestral home, has called on the OPW and Offaly Council to help keep it open to visitors.

At the opening was publican Julia Hayes (83) who featured in the RTÉ documentary Long Road to Moneygall. A photograph of her holding an American flag graces the entrance. “I got an awful shock when I saw it,” she said.