Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Irish village waiting for Presidential visit

A small Irish village is getting ready for an official visit from the most powerful man in the world.

Barack Obama has already signalled his desire to come and see his ancestral home in Moneygall, Co Offaly, (Population: 299) and his remarkable presidential triumph sent locals into a tailspin.

The men, women and children in this one dusty Main Street, on the main Dublin-Limerick Road where major roadworks are under way, didn’t wait until the official confirmation came through from the far side of the Atlantic to begin cracking open the bottles and ordering pints of Guinness.

While supporters in Chicago, being beamed into Ollie’s Pub on satellite news channels wore pained faces of anxiety, their Irish cousins were already throwing a party like no other.

Even the Church of Ireland rector, Canon Stephen Neill (39), was fighting for space on the small dance floor at the back of the bar — one of only two in Moneygall — well before John McCain conceded defeat. Had he got a tip-off from the Man above? “No, no — I’m only in sales,” he insisted.

Pummelling the floorboards next to him were The Obama Set Dancers. The eight women who come together every week in a nearby hall to practice their traditional steps rebranded themselves earlier this year in honour of the village’s newly-adopted son.

Canon Neill, of the 200-year-old Templeharry church, in the next village of Cloughjordan, was partly responsible for this outbreak of madness. It was he who unearthed the records stored in an elderly

parishioner’s home that firmly tied America’s first black president to Moneygall.

“It’s electric, it’s hard to have imagined this would go up a notch but it has,” he said.

“We’re only looking forward now to the next stage in the journey, which will be a visit hopefully from President Obama in the next year. It’s hard to contemplate really, for a quiet little village on the main Dublin to Limerick road, soon to be by-passed, to get a visit from the most important citizen of the world.”

There was no sign of a credit crunch in Ollie’s Pub or any evidence outside of the economic gloom that has pervaded the rest of the country, as it comes to terms with the dying cry of the Republic’s once mighty Celtic Tiger.

The talk was of optimism, new plans, perhaps a heritage centre on the field where Senator Obama’s third great-grandfather, the wonderfully named Fulmuth Kearney grew up. There was also hope of change.

“This gives us that encouragement we need, particularly at a time when people are quite down about the economy. This gives us a little kick up the backside to get us motivated and moving,” said Canon Neill.

US Presidents have been to Ireland before. John F Kennedy was the first in 1963. Ronald Reagan in 1984; Bill Clinton, who played such a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process, in 1995, 1998 and 2000 and then there was George W Bush in 2004.

But it’s Barack Obama’s anticipated arrival which has really captured the imagination of this village, whose ancestors left for America in the 1850’s.

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