Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Obama visit: Small Irish town of Moneygall prepares for the biggest day in its history

Barack Hussein Obama
US President Barack Obama's visit to Ireland, May 2011
US President Barack Obama's visit to Ireland, May 2011
The President of the United States and his First Lady
US President Barack Obama's visit to Ireland, May 2011
Two US Marines are seen at Dublin airport ahead of the arrival of US President Barack Obama.
Two US Marines are seen at Dublin airport ahead of the arrival of US President Barack Obama.
A member of the President's entourage is seen at Dublin airport ahead of the arrival of US President Barack Obama.
A US military helicopter manoeuvres at Dublin airport ahead of the arrival of US President Barack Obama.
Stephanie Casillas takes a picture of Maya Landry, 3, in a John McCain mask and Alex Vincelette, 3, in an Obama mask while their preschool class visits the Arroyo Vista Park polling place in Moorpark, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/The Ventura County Star, James Glover II)
President-elect Barack Obama, left, his wife Michelle Obama, right, and two daughters, Malia, and Sasha, center left, wave to the crowd at the election night rally in Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
President-elect Barack Obama kisses wife, Michelle, after his acceptance speech at his election night party at Grant Park in Chicago, Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., addresses supporters at a rally in Manassas, Va., Monday, Nov. 3, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
*** CORRECTS NAME OF PHOTOGRAPHER *** University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students celebrate on the Alma Mater after Obama was announced the president-elect early Wednesday morning, Nov. 5, 2008 in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/The Daily Illini - Ramzi Dreessen)
Supporters of President-elect Barack Obama cheer in the streets in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Stacie Freudnberg)
Dennis Caudill, of Crown Point, Indiana, places a sign supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the mantle at the home of Palin friends Brad and Kristan Cole, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, in Wasilla, Alaska. Caudill was part of a group of McCain supporters and friends from across the country gathered to watch election returns in Wasilla. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, is joined by Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, during a rally with supporters on election night in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Joan Crecca kisses a life size cutout of presidential candidate John McCain at the Republican election party in Bellevue, Wash on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Crecca's husband Joe was a POW in Viet Nam at the same time as McCain. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The population of the tiny Irish village of Moneygall will swell to several times its size when the President and his sizeable entourage touch down today.

For the 300 inhabitants of this Irish village, the visit is nothing short of a miracle. "It's unbelievable," said Ollie Hayes, landlord of one of Moneygall's two pubs. "Everyone is just in good humour – good crack, laughing and making fun about it, all positive. We're making sure we'll get the whole thing right – it'll be a day to remember. The village will be in mint condition."

Most of the residents took to the streets yesterday to have a last look around before a security lockdown is put in place.

Then this afternoon President Obama, whose great-great-great-grandfather Fulmouth Kearney came from the Co Offaly village before emigrating to America in 1850, is due to make his arrival by helicopter.

The local Church of Ireland Canon, Stephen Neill, enthused: "The mood is absolutely electric; there's huge anticipation and excitement. The people have been given a real boost to their spirits – it's something to celebrate in what have been very dark times in our country economically."

Some 3,500 litres of paint, donated by an enterprising manufacturer, have been used to paint almost everything in the village that doesn't move. Every house has been re-done along with the school and the two churches, Catholic and Protestant.

There was, said the Canon, no shortage of volunteers, adding: "It has really brought people together with community spirit."

It has also produced some entrepreneurial spirit, with a number of gift shops suddenly materialising as Moneygall tries, with some cheerfully kitsch products, to extract commercial advantage from its world-famous visitor.

There are items featuring Obama and shamrocks and Obama and Guinness, while the local chip van will be offering Obama burgers. A new website is offering an array of T-shirts, priced at €15 each, with slogans such as "What's the craic Barack?"

A tongue-in-cheek song meanwhile proclaims: "O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara, there's no one as Irish as Barack Obama. From the old Blarney stone to the green hills of Tara there's no one as Irish as Barack Obama."

Mr Hayes has been practising pulling what he describes as "the most important pint I'll ever pour", which he hopes to serve to the US President. The bar features a large bust of the President and many other bits and pieces associated with him.

Ireland loves welcoming American presidents, and especially remembers trips from Bill Clinton and, most of all, John F Kennedy.

But this will be the biggest thing ever to hit Moneygall, and Ollie Hayes hopes it will bring lasting benefits to a village which, until now, has been off the beaten track.

"We hope we get good responses," he said yesterday. "Oh please God aye."

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