HE WASN’T EXPECTED to do a walkabout, but he did. He wasn’t expected to go into the house of his ancestor, but he did. In fact US president Barack Obama spent much of his time in Moneygall, Co. Offaly on the main street meeting the local people, before heading in to the pub for a pint. He’s now left the town to return to Dublin but the party will continue into the night in Moneygall where a street festival is planned.
Moneygall is the US president’s Irish ancestral home, and he took the time to escape the rain and duck into the house built on the site of the homestead of his great great great grandfather, before emerging back onto the main street to greet the waiting crowds once again, among them former Taoiseach and Offaly man Brian Cowen.
Obama then headed into Ollie Hayes’ pub to meet some of his relatives and the people who unearthed the records proving that he has Offaly roots. In the pub Obama and his wife signed a visitors’ book and posed for informal family photos, warmly greeting relations waiting inside with hugs.
A pint of the black stuff
Approaching the bar to meet Ollie Hayes the publican asked “are you ready for one?” with pints of Guinness already settling on the bar. The president was concerned about drinking the pint before it was ready, and when Michelle asked what one does while waiting for a Guinness she was promptly told “we have a chat”.
Drinking his pint, Obama said that he understood that it made a difference who was behind the taps. Ollie Hayes wasted no time in telling him he was right.
With calls of “sláinte” and the clinking of glasses, the Obamas joked about the amount of time their advance staff had already spent in Hayes’ pub, and called to their secret service agents to ask if they wanted a pint.
Image: Maxwells/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Earlier in the pub the president made a short speech, saying that for him to make such a personal connection to Ireland is special, and he said he was very grateful to everyone for all their efforts in welcoming he and Michelle to Moneygall.
Earlier the sun came out just in time this afternoon for the visit by the Obamas.
Travelling by car from the helicopter landing on a nearby GAA pitch – half of which is in Offaly and half of which is in Tipperary – the pair came to a halt on the main street and appeared to the massive cheers of the crowds who waited for several hours to catch a glimpse of the special visitors.
The chairman of Offaly County Council Danny Owens and John Kennedy, Mayor of North Tipperary Council, joined Henry Healy, eighth cousin of the president, in greeting the Obamas as they stepped out onto Moneygall main street. Healy was treated to a bear hug from Mrs Obama.
The president and his wife then crossed the road to meet the local people, where Michelle was told “you look lovely” by one excited onlooker. The secret service detail assigned to Obama for the visit were keeping a close eye on their charge as he reached far back into the crown to shake hands and pose for photos. It’s understood that residents had been told that the chance of a walkabout was slim.
For one young resident there was the photo opportunity of a lifetime as the president took a little girl into his arms for a few moments, before returning her to her parents in the crowd. He then took a second child from the crowd to pose for photos, bouncing the crying baby boy his arms.
Three thousand people, who were lucky enough to win “golden tickets” in a lottery, have lined the streets of Moneygall today.
A specially-made red carpet had been laid for the president and his wife Michelle, while a special t-shirt shop has been set up to mark the occasion, and surely his wardrobe won’t be complete without a “What’s the Craic, Barack?” t-shirt. A youngster shouted the phrase at the president as he greeted locals in Moneygall today, and Obama responded “I like that”.
Gifts of a pendant, an ancestral scroll, a model of the high cross at Durrow and a composition by local musician Edel O’Dwyer are among the gifts being presented to President Obama.