Not just money by name as €7m plaza gets nod
Published 12/04/2011 | 05:00
MONEYGALL is on a bit of a roll. Not only is the US presidential circus coming to town next month, but the small Offaly village was also the chosen site for a €7m development.
In a happy example of serendipity, the new development was green-lit three weeks ago, just before Barack Obama's visit was announced.
Pat McDonagh, managing director of Supermac's, was in Moneygall yesterday to unveil plans for a 'travel plaza' -- a one-stop fuel-and-food outlet that will be located on the motorway junction on the outskirts of the village. The plaza, which is due to open next year, will include a Supermac's, Pappa John's Pizza, a food court, convenience store and fuel pumps.
"It will create 50 full-time and 20 part-time jobs," said Pat, who hopes to call the complex the Barack Obama Plaza. "This was planned way before anybody thought of President Obama visiting.
"It's a happy coincidence. We've already mentioned the proposed name to the US embassy here and they were quite delighted."
There's a lot of delight and optimism around Moneygall these days.
The quiet, one-street village, tucked just off the Dublin-Limerick M7 motorway, has been the focus of worldwide media attention since it emerged in 2007 that Mr Obama's great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney came from there.
Inevitably, since he took office in 2009 there has been much speculation about Obama making the time-honoured pilgrimage of American presidents seeking their Irish roots, but until a few weeks ago it had seemed only a vague possibility.
Of course, like everyone in Moneygall, publican Ollie Hayes was paying close attention to the St Paddy's Day formalities in the White House last month. He had been tipped off that Barack Obama might announce a visit to Ireland.
"We were expecting some announcement that he would be coming here later this year -- but we definitely weren't expecting him to say 'Moneygall'. We all just went, 'Oh my God,'" he said.
Almost a month later, the pocket-sized village on the border of counties Offaly and Tipperary is still the only confirmed stop on the presidential itinerary.
Every day brings a new improvement -- the National Roads Authority has stumped up €50,000 and Offaly County Council has raided the piggybank for an estimated €30,000 to give a facelift to the footpaths and roads.
Yesterday, every house and shopfront along the half-mile long main street was being power-hosed in readiness for a new lick of paint, courtesy of Dulux.
But there's an even bigger project under way. Yesterday's plaza launch took place in the hospitable warmth of Mr Hayes's pub -- the unofficial Obama embassy.
Ollie and his wife Majella have become used to many "oh my God" moments, such as watching a busload of sharp-suited presidential advance men and women casing the place last week. By now even their four-year-old daughter Katie is taking the hullaballoo in her stride.
And yesterday the pub was packed with happy locals and politicians drawn to this rare good news story, including North Tipp's trio of TDs, Noel Coonan, Michael Lowry and Alan Kelly.
The latter's brother Declan is an Obama administration insider and US economic envoy to Northern Ireland.
Also at the launch was Canon Stephen Neill, who had initially been contacted by US genealogist Kyle Betit about the village's link to Obama, and who took the trail to Falmouth Kearney -- and on to Obama's cousins, the Healys.
Henry Healy is acutely aware of the importance of this visit to Moneygall.
"We were like every other rural village where things were gloomy and dull, all the major investments were in the towns," he said.
Henry is cheered by the collective effort to transform the village.
"We'll be showcasing Ireland to the world," he added. "But we're determined this won't be a one-day wonder."