Offaly village flies flag for the nation

 

Among the bunting, flags and great excitement, there are men flat out trying to open the Obama Cafe

FROM THIS morning, Moneygall will be sealed off to the outside world except for those with special access. Cars will be cleared off the main street and locals will brace themselves for the visit of US president Barack Obama on Monday.

Whatever happens, the Co Offaly village will never be the same again. The rather unprepossessing village that motorists thundered through on the way from Dublin to Limerick has been transformed.

Every house has been painted. The streets are festooned with American and Irish flags.

Even the altar of the local church has red, white and blue bunting.

Two gift shops have opened – one selling souvenir T-shirts “what’s the craic, Barack?” – and another selling fridge magnets, mugs, calendars, postcards and sundry other kitsch. The Offaly Independenthas been renamed the Obama Independentfor the occasion.

Beside one gift shop, workmen are battling against the clock to open the Obama Cafe in time for Monday’s visit.

About 3,000 people will be in the village on Monday. Offaly County Council has brought in dozens of portaloos for the day.

Locals queued for five hours on Thursday to pick up the gold-embossed and numbered tickets. Those from out of town will park and ride from a site off the Nenagh road on the N7.

One certain visitor is former taoiseach Brian Cowen, who first extended the invitation to Obama and who confirmed yesterday that he will be going to Moneygall.

All the access roads into the village including the M7’s Junction 23 will be closed from today.

Even at this late stage, Obama’s plans have not been finalised and, if they have been, nobody’s telling. “Every time we say anything, the Americans change the schedule,” said one well-placed local.

The latest indications are that he will land in the hurling pitch at about 3pm and make his way to the home of his ancestor Fulmouth Kearney via the M7 and a specially constructed ramp off the motorway.

He will then take a stroll of the village to Ollie Hayes’s pub where it is hoped that he will meet some of his distant cousins including Henry Healy.

Mr Healy went to Dublin tailor Louis Copeland to get himself suited and booted for the occasion yesterday morning. “I have no official confirmation if he is going to meet me. He’s coming to Moneygall. Everything else is a bonus.”

There are no plans for the president to make a speech and a proposed trip to Templeharry Church to see the ancestral records has been cut short because of the brevity of the visit which is only expected to last an hour.

The epicentre of the village remains Hayes’s pub. It was full yesterday from midday with visitors, most notably world media.

Music was provided by TippOff, a group of 17 musicians who moved en-masse into the village last month and have been providing entertainment for locals every night. “We call ourselves ‘musicians on call for Moneygall’,” said singer Peter Coughlan who is one of three members of the Hungry Grass, the London-Irish group involved in it.

They’ve recorded a charity single As Sure As My Name is Kearney– a reference to Obama’s Irish ancestors.

Fox News, ITV and the BBC were among the broadcasters in the village yesterday. Anna Bosch, the London correspondent of Spain’s national broadcaster TVE, did her piece to camera beside a bust of Barack Obama in Hayes’s pub. “Obama is a rock star in Spain,” she said. “He has never come to Spain, but here he is coming to this little Irish village.”

Proprietor Ollie Hayes says his world changed since Obama uttered the word “Moneygall” when he confirmed his Irish visit on St Patrick’s Day.

It has only been two months since then and locals are proud they have managed to achieve so much in such a short time.