Obama plan puts Moneygall, 'once only a run-through town', firmly on the map

 

“I'M ABOUT to top up a pint here to toast Obama,” Moneygall publican Ollie Hayes said over the din in his eponymous pub last night.

While the small Offaly village did not have a St Patrick’s Day parade yesterday, the pub, with both American and Irish flags waving proudly outside, was the place to be last night.

It was there that locals gathered yesterday for the six o’clock news to cheer the long-awaited confirmation that US president Barack Obama would visit the place from which his ancestor Fulmuth Kearney left for New York in the mid-19th century.

Residents of the village – population 298, according to the last census – were yesterday revelling in the news.

“People are walking around with great big smiles on their faces,” Canon Stephen Neill said. The Church of Ireland rector’s research uncovered the records that cemented Mr Obama’s connection to the area.

“When I actually discovered the record a shiver literally went down my spine,” he said yesterday.

“The whole thing has been a roller coaster – sometimes you think it’s all just a dream.”

It is expected that Obama will visit Templeharry Church, where his ancestors worshipped, and the local schoolhouse where they were educated.

“The whole family left in the 1840s and 1850s,” Canon Neill said. “They were shoemakers, which was a reasonable trade so they weren’t driven into emigration but had the opportunity to go and took it.”

This same ancestry is shared by Henry Healy, who has been informed that he is an “eighth cousin” of the US president.

He said yesterday that while Mr Obama was welcome to visit his own home he didn’t think “the security arrangements” would be up to scratch, but that wasn’t dampening his mood.

“It’s brilliant, absolutely fantastic news. Moneygall is ready to welcome the president with open arms and hopefully we’ll do Ireland proud,” Mr Healy said.

It is hoped that Mr Obama will also visit the Kearney ancestral home, which still stands in the village and is owned by local grocer, hardware merchant and funeral director John Donovan.

Once “only a run-through village on the way from Limerick to Dublin”, Moneygall was now firmly on the map thanks to the Obama connection, he said.

“It’s hard to say what it will mean for the town but it can do nothing but good. It’s funny how a small thing can become a big thing – and this is huge.”

He said there was “no record of one stone being removed from the house”, which his grandfather had bought and which had been rented by “quite a few” locals who will all now have a claim to fame.

Mr Donovan mused that the property would increase in value. “There’s not another one like it in the country, I suppose.”

Offaly county councillor Peter Ormond said that town representatives had been in close contact with the American embassy in Dublin since Mr Obama’s Irish connection was uncovered.

Speaking outside Ollie Hayes’s pub, he said the announcement, coming as it had on St Patrick’s Day, meant a “double celebration” was under way in the village.

“It’s already in full swing.”