Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

US security team gets ready for Obama's Irish visit

A fella hanging around a town centre on an overcast day would not usually raise eyebrows.

But when he's accompanied by 30 or so of his friends, all suited and booted, then you know something is up.

The US president's men and women descended on Moneygall, Co Offaly, yesterday to begin preparations for his visit to his ancestral hometown in May.

And they brought good news with them -- since it is now believed that Barack Obama will spend a full day in Ireland. This is considerably more than the five hours initially suggested, although the schedule is still being worked out.

A firm date for the visit is also emerging, with Mr Obama expected to fly into Dublin on Monday, May 23, spend the day in the country, stay overnight in Dublin and depart for London on Tuesday, May 24.

His visit will come just three days after Queen Elizabeth completes her historic four-day trip here, and Mr Obama will visit the British monarch after leaving Ireland.

Mr Obama's advance security team was in Dublin yesterday to visit Aras an Uachtarain, Farmleigh House and the US Ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park, and Government Buildings in the city centre.

But it was in Moneygall -- where locals are well under way with their own advance planning for the visit -- that team Obama made its presence felt.

As people hosed down walls and scrubbed the town's face, two garda outriders led a blacked-out coach and van into Moneygall.

Out stepped a group comprised of staff from the US Embassy, the White House, the US State Department and agents from the Secret Service.

They were accompanied by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs as they checked out locations the US president is expected to visit.

"They just wanted to look around, have a chat and ask a few questions," said local publican Ollie Hayes, who had his pub -- and the toilets therein -- photographed by the POTUS (President of the United States) appointed potty inspectors.

Mr Hayes said they were very nice people, but wouldn't confirm if they sampled a pint of Guinness.

"Ah, they had a few refreshments," he said, and added he hoped Mr Obama would have a pint. "I do hope he comes in here, it would be brilliant."

If the local GAA pitch is used as a landing site for the US president's arrival, it will mean that Mr Obama will briefly set foot in Tipperary before he arrives in Offaly, since the GAA club is located on the Tipperary side of the county border. Whichever county they inspect, Mr Hayes believes he'll be seeing a lot more of the black-suit brigade.

"They are known as the advanced security and I suppose they will do a preliminary survey, go back, map it out and see the lie of the land," he said.

Falmouth Kearney, the great-great-great grandfather of Mr Obama, emigrated from Moneygall to the US in 1850.

Mr Obama's distant relative, Henry Healy, said the town was already getting a tourism lift as the buzz surrounding the visit increased.

"It's been crazy but it is exciting times for the village," Mr Healy said. "It's all positive around here. We are forgetting about the IMF and the bailout.

"There is unbelievable community spirit for the whole thing, everybody is out cleaning and the painters are coming.

"The village is really coming together to make sure that Moneygall portrays a perfect picture of Ireland when the president gets here."

Mr Healy is hopeful Mr Obama will spend 24 hours in Ireland and is vying to be one of the few to shake his hand.

"I've had no contact from the White House at all but we maintained contact with the embassy and we maintained contact with the Irish American Democrats," he added. "I was there for the inauguration so I am hopeful that my contacts ensure I might be able to shake his hand."

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