Village rejoices in presidential status with more verses of 'Barack Obama'


The first Obama tourists have already arrived in the tiny Offaly village, writes Ronan McGreevyin Moneygall

FIRST THE Tipperary Junior A hurling championship, now the leader of the free world.

It does not get much better for the people of Moneygall, population 289.

Prior to Tuesday night, it was best known as a place you drive through on the road between Dublin and Limerick, but even that distinction, such as it is, will go when the town is bypassed in 2010.

Now it's the centrepiece of the improbable story of America's first black president and his Irish roots.

During the New Hampshire primaries, Mr Obama told ITV reporter John Irvine that he was aware of those roots.

"There's a little village in Ireland where my great-great-great grandfather came from and I'm looking forward to going there and having a pint," Mr Obama said.

The Taoiseach Brian Cowen wasted no time in taking up

that offer and has already extended the president-elect an invitation to come and visit Moneygall.

By midday yesterday, the village had its first Obama tourists looking for the places where Fulmouth Kearney had come from and left in 1850.

Ian and Christy Walker from Indianapolis were visiting Limerick yesterday when they heard the news.

"We were up early watching the election returns. We went down to breakfast and the hostess said, 'Do you realise that Obama has Irish roots', so we had to come to Moneygall," said Christy who was wearing an Obama-Biden badge.

Their first stop was Ollie Hayes's pub, the centrepiece of Tuesday night's celebration.

The parish was already in high spirits when they gathered in Hayes's pub, one of only two pubs in Moneygall, on Tuesday night to watch the results.

On Sunday the junior hurlers, who play in Tipperary though the village itself in Co Offaly, won the club's first county title in the grade and many saw the Obama celebrations as an extension of earlier revelries.

Hardy Drew and The Nancy Boys made an appearance early to sing There's No One as Irish as Barack Obamawhich has brought them a measure of fame and also an invitation to an inaugural ball in Washington on January 19th.

After midnight, the accordions came out and a sing-song ensued. All the time, CNN played silently in the background.

Nobody could hear what David Axelrod, Barack Obama's campaign manager was saying, but the smiles on the big screen were enough.

"Obama just won Connecticut, does anybody know a Connecticut song," said one man.

By around 1.30am the gardaí arrived to clear the place, but it was all done in the spirit of the occasion.

Locals were bemused by all the attention lavished on a village that never had cause to draw attention to itself in the past and has neither a hotel nor a bed and breakfast.

Moira Sheppard (64), who has lived in Moneygall for the last 40 years, said it was the most excitement it had experienced since a Coke lorry went on fire sending cans like projectile missiles through windows in the village.

"The only thing that seems to happen around here are car crashes, but this will change things. We're absolutely delighted," she said.

Another local, Ollie Larkin, said the boost to Moneygall will be incalculable.

"The last time I saw this excitement was when we won the senior county hurling in 1975. We're only a small, little parish and how proud we are."

An enterprising plumbing firm has already put an advertisement welcoming motorists to Moneygall "the ancestral home of Barack Obama".

Local counsellor Peter Ormond said he hoped local people and Offaly County Council can get together and prepare a way for drawing more tourists into the area who are interested in Obama's heritage.

Back in Hayes's pub, Mr Hayes himself was fielding media calls and, at the same time, trying to clear up from the night before.

He's now something of a veteran at both.

"They ask the same questions and I give the same answers," he said.