President's cousin lands tourism job
Pair who helped make trip happen to front new campaign
Published 17/05/2011 | 05:00
BARACK Obama's famed distant cousin Henry Healy and Church of Ireland rector Stephen Neill will be the faces of a new Tourism Ireland campaign abroad.
The community activists, who were instrumental in getting the US president to visit Ireland, said it was an "honour" and a "privilege" to be selected.
The pair -- along with publican Ollie Hayes and other Moneygall, Co Offaly, residents -- have been conducting round-the-clock interviews with international media.
US media outlets CNN, ABC, BBC, Reuters, the 'Boston Globe' and 'Time' magazine were among those who arrived in the village yesterday.
Mr Healy and Canon Neill will take part in a new promotional film by Tourism Ireland.
"We haven't got the fine details yet but they want us for an ongoing tourism campaign. This is about more than Moneygall. Tourism is one of the possible areas that we can grow our country. There's a product there waiting to be developed," said Canon Neill.
However, he criticised a "lack of leadership" and "joined-up thinking" among government agencies organising the visit.
Failte Ireland has yet to open a temporary tourism information office or information points in Moneygall -- despite a surge in the number of Irish and foreign visitors arriving in the village every day.
There are no ancestral trail maps or signage to help tourists.
However, the Government Information Service (GIS) last night insisted tourism representatives would be on the ground but a spokesperson could not say when this would happen.
Canon Neill described Mr Obama's visit as a "huge opportunity" for Ireland.
"We still have time -- it's one week until the president comes; the queen (of England) is coming now so there is every possibility that we can make both of these visits a huge success and showcase Ireland to the world."
In relation to the advertising campaign, he said the UK and US were the main markets that Tourism Ireland wanted him to promote.
"I feel very privileged to have been approached; it's a proud moment to be an ambassador for your country."
Mr Healy expressed his delight at the campaign, adding that he felt it was his "civic duty" to promote Ireland abroad and to boost tourism.
Offaly County Council, the local authority responsible for infrastructure in Moneygall, has spent a lot of money on refurbishing footpaths and improving the village.
However, it has not erected signs to show tourists where to go for food and toilet facilities in nearby villages and towns such as Dunkerrin in Co Offaly and Cloughjordin and Roscrea, both in Co Tipperary.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama's advanced security team was in Moneygall yesterday. Among the group of up to 60 officials were staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A meeting of the local Moneygall committee and council was held last night to discuss final arrangements, such as the welding of manholes. Other interesting faces in Moneygall yesterday included well known Irish actor Patrick Bergin, who dropped into Ollie Hayes's bar to play music with the resident band Tipp-Off.com.