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Tuesday 17 January 2017

Villagers prepare welcome fit for a king

Weather forecast puts locals on their knees in prayer

Published 23/05/2011 | 07:50

FR JOE Kennedy read out the parish announcements following Sunday Mass in Moneygall.

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"Tomorrow the president of America, Barack Obama, will be in Moneygall," he said simply, before continuing to tell the packed congregation about a fundraiser for a cancer charity to fits of giggles.

Almost everyone in the parish of Dunkerrin-Moneygall-Barna had turned up for Sunday Mass to pray for good weather.

"Is there somebody coming?" enquired Fr Joe as he smiled through his glasses as far as the back wall of the church where parishioners were standing.

The night before the Mass, Mr Obama's distant Irish cousin Henry Healy was searching for a Child of Prague statue to put in his mother Marian's front window on the Main Street after weather reports sent a ripple of frantic tweets and texts around Moneygall.

Marian sat inside the church yesterday clad in her 'Obama Set Dancers' hoody in the red and black -- the Moneygall colours and a stars and stripes cravat.

It was a proud moment for the mother of John (36), Yvonne (34), Susan (32), Avril (24), Maria (25) and Henry (26) to see her son step up to address the village after 11am Mass. His father, the late Har Healy, was not there to see his son speak.

Mr Obama's most famous -- but by his own admission not closest -- living cousin has devoted all of his time promoting his village while holding down a full-time job as an accounts technician with a plumbing firm. Everyone applauded after he asked them to give Mr Obama a welcome they would like to get if they were coming home.

The community spirit in Moneygall Main Street is contagious -- it has spread to the neighbouring villages of Toomevara and Dunkerrin and beyond.

"We hope it will spread even further," a Dunkerrin native whispered to a tall garda with a strong Cork accent who stood at the back of the church.

Fr Joe, who calls himself the "new kid on the block", moved to Moneygall six months ago to take up the position of parish priest.

Meeting the international media, tourists and musicians, has now become part of his daily routine.

After Mass, a large group of parishioners decamped to Ollie Hayes's bar. On the street outside, US genealogist Megan Smolenyak arrived with her sister, Stacy. Megan was the 'instigator' who first contacted Canon Stephen Neill to search for traces of the Kearneys in Moneygall.

However, the mood was dampened by concerns the bad weather forecast could impact on the historic presidential visit.

CELEBRATIONS

"What if the chopper can't land in them winds?" one man who stood in the doorway of Ollie's asked his friend.

"Sure they'll have to close off the motorway and drive him down," came the reply.

The band-in-residence -- Tipp-off.com -- have been playing every night to keep the homecoming party alive for Barack Obama. Offaly native Peter Coughlan, the lead singer with the group, moved into the village to celebrate Mr Obama's arrival and has been entertaining TV networks by morning, tourists by afternoon and villagers by night.

While the US media are lapping up images inside the two traditional pubs in the village, the real celebrations are inside the homes around the parish.

Gemma O'Meara and her two-year-old daughter, Jessica, who live in the hills behind the GAA field where Mr Obama's helicopter will touch down, were busy chatting to relatives inside her parents' home in the village on Saturday.

The house was bustling with activity as family members reunited for Mr Obama's homecoming. Gemma's brother, Noel Gaffney, who grew up in Moneygall, has travelled from Manchester for the occasion.

Noel recalled how he was in New York on St Patrick's Day and decided to get dressed up as a leprechaun for the parade.

He was sitting on a bar stool after the festivities ended and enjoying a drink when he saw the words "Obama" and "to visit Irish town of Moneygall" flashing on the TV screen. "I couldn't believe it so I took a picture with my iPhone," he exclaimed.

Despite the massive security presence in Moneygall, there is enormous good feeling between villagers and gardai on the ground. Officers are stopping by to use bathrooms and have cups of tea to keep them warm.

The Department of Foreign Affairs held a meeting last night with Moneygall villagers and Mr Obama's security team as the final preparations are made ahead of the visit.

Now everyone has their fingers crossed the bad weather forecast will not scupper the single biggest event in the tiny town's history.

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