Obama role not expected by Cowen

 

MONEYGALL VISIT:FORMER TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has said he is now a private citizen and did not expect to have any role in the visit of US president Barack Obama to Moneygall.

Mr Cowen was the first taoiseach to extend an invitation to Mr Obama to visit Ireland.

In his first public statement since leaving office, Mr Cowen told Midlands 103 radio he was not “anticipating or presuming” he would be invited to Moneygall.

Mr Cowen said it would have been nice had the visit happened while he was taoiseach “but it’s not the point. The point is that we will all be there to join in with the local people that he wants to meet.”

The announcement on St Patrick’s Day took the people of Moneygall by surprise especially after original plans to build a heritage centre were abandoned.

Offaly County Council earmarked a site in the village known as Kearney’s field for a possible centre. The site was the ancestral homestead of Falmouth Kearney, Mr Obama’s third great-grandfather, who emigrated to the US in 1850. Local councillor Peter Ormond said they decided not to proceed when they subsequently discovered Kearney’s home was still standing.

Last year a team from Trinity College Dublin verified iron supports in the house showed it was the structure Mr Obama’s ancestor had lived in.

Mr Ormond said building something new was “not a runner” given the timeframe, but visitors were already satisfied to see the house, Templeharry Church where Kearney was baptised and the schoolhouse he attended.

Local businessman John Donovan, who owns the house, said he was open to offers as what to do next. He stressed his tenant had legal rights irrespective of who was visiting, even if the person involved was the leader of the free world.

“To be realistic, Obama will come and go, but my place will still need to be rented,” he said. “I never envisaged that he’d come. It never dawned on me. It’s not in any fit state for the president of the United States. Something will have to be done with it.”

Another likely priority is the narrow road leading to the church. Church of Ireland rector Stephen Neill, who was responsible for finding the president’s roots, said he had seen the presidential limousine in Washington. “As rural boreens go, it is not bad, but it certainly wasn’t built with presidential limousines in mind,” he said.