Sunday 26 February 2017

'He stood on same floor as his ancestors'

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

BARACK Obama stepped back in time when he walked inside the house where his third-great grandfather lived in Moneygall.

Local shopkeeper, funeral director, farmer and horse-racing enthusiast, John Donovan, who owns the stone house, was standing by the freshly painted pale-green doorway when the Obamas arrived.

By John's side were his wife, Clodagh, and two children, Rachel and Philip.

Until the last moment, the Donovans had no idea if the US president would step inside the house, which they have been renovating.

"All along, the indications were that he'd go to the door but he wouldn't go in. We thought I'd get to introduce him to my wife and kids," explained John.

The house has been under armed guard since the weekend.

"There was a cloud of secrecy until the last minute," said John.

However, Mr Obama was curious about his ancestors' house and was the first to head through the front door, while he was heard saying, "Let's go in."

"He was warm and friendly," said John.

"He was easy to get on with, he was just a dream. He turned around and called Michelle and we all went into the house."

The Irish Independent went on a tour of the ancestral house after Mr Obama's visit -- to see where Falmouth Kearney grew up and where Falmouth's father, Joseph Kearney, had his shoe-making business.

Once inside, the Obamas, were shown ordnance survey maps of Moneygall and the streetscape in the 1850s.

I welcomed him inside and said 'you're now standing on the same floor as your ancestors were 160 years ago'. He just said, 'Come on, let's get a photograph.' Michelle was lovely and we just went into the front room and spoke and that was it.

"I'm ecstatic with how everything went. I think they were very impressed and we gave them a history of the house."

Mr Obama asked Rachel and Philip about their school work.

"Rachel actually told him a story about Teddy Roosevelt and how the teddy bear got his name."

Just before Mr Obama arrived, John was so nervous, he couldn't talk. When he was asked if he'd serve the US president and first lady tea, he replied: "I think he'd be more interested in a pint."

As it turns out, Mr Obama was far more interested in proving his Irish ancestry, by gulping down a pint of the black stuff in Ollie Hayes's pub after his walk through the village. Shaking hands with locals is thirsty work, after all.

Later on, after meeting his distant cousins and Moneygall friends, Mr Obama left the village.

"Well now, that reminds me of a good country wedding. . . but the kind you want to be at," observed one man.

While another chipped in: "I don't know what we'll do now. It's like the end of the Rose of Tralee. He was great to stay as long as he did but it's a pity he can't stay even longer, to see the real Moneygall tonight."

Irish Independent Supplement

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