Excitement builds as invites snapped up for home-town visit
TICKETS to see Barack Obama and the first lady have been issued to people living in the US president's ancestral village.
Queues formed from early yesterday in Moneygall, Co Offaly, where only residents were asked to collect the coveted invites.
Mr Obama's distant cousin Henry Healy emerged first with ticket number 001. Complete with a gold-coloured border, the ticket states: "You are invited to celebrate the visit of the President of the United States of America Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama to the President's ancestral home of Moneygall, Co Offaly."
Mr Healy (26) has championed his village since he first heard it had a connection to the president in 2007. Throughout Mr Obama's election campaign, Mr Healy and Moneygall, with a population of 350, adopted the Kenyan-Irish-American.
The sun beamed down on the old Church of Ireland schoolhouse when villagers started to gather before 9am yesterday.
Also in the queue were those who travelled from as far away as Dublin and Longford in a desperate bid to get their hands on a ticket. However, the event is restricted to people living in the village and its immediate hinterland, with a small number held back for dignitaries.
"I'm delighted with how the whole thing is going," Mr Healy said. "I think people realise that the gardai and council had to go through a process with insurance and vetting and clearing.
"Lots of things delayed the process -- there were people who were collecting for their whole family -- but I'm happy to say I've yet to meet a local who has not received a ticket."
Holding his own ticket in his hand, he added: "This is bringing the reality that little step closer. I will be on the Main Street when the president arrives. That was our aim all along -- to get him here is fantastic."
Yesterday's queue moved slowly as people who weren't vetted by gardai turned up in a desperate bid to meet the president. Elderly people and a pregnant woman were among those who queued for over four hours.
Eighty-year-old Julia Hayes stood and waited patiently from early morning before she received her ticket at around 1.30pm. When she finally emerged, she had a wide smile and exclaimed, "I can't wait for him to come, I got my ticket."
Tracey Martin and her mother Margaret also waited more than four hours to get their ticket to see Mr Obama. "It's worth it," said Tracey as she neared the top of the queue. "Obviously I didn't think as villagers we'd have to wait this long but it's definitely worth it."
Restrictions are being placed on ticket-holders, who will have to bring photo ID with them on Monday. Access will be provided on the N7, Nenagh road.
Umbrellas, flag poles, rucksacks, liquids and camping chairs are not allowed. However, attendees have been asked to bring rain gear. There will be no seating but cameras and mobile phones are allowed on the day, so locals can capture photographs of Mr Obama and his wife.
Meanwhile, researchers from Irish heritage company Eneclann have located Mr Obama's closest living relatives in Co Tipperary and they will be on RTE One's 'Nationwide' at 7pm on Friday.
Dick Benn and Tom Donovan are sixth cousins of the president and have now been invited to meet him in Moneygall next week.
"I have three uncles alive who are even closer to Mr Obama," said Mr Benn. "It's a bit of a shock but interesting to see that our family have done well when they went to America."
Tom Donovan said of Mr Obama: "I like him, he's a great orator, and he talks off the cuff effortlessly. He's the kind of guy I would vote for if I was in America. I think he'll like it in Ireland."