Thursday 8 December 2016

Welcome home Mr President

Moneygall’s residents have produced a commemorative booklet to mark the Obama visit

EIMEAR NI BHRAONAIN

Published 20/05/2011 | 13:03

It’s the story of a tiny village that managed to get the attention of the most powerful man in the world.

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Moneygall, Co Offaly, was once somewhere you passed through on the busy route from Dublin to Limerick.

Today, it is bypassed by a new motorway but thanks to the Trojan efforts of one close-knit community, Moneygall is now a globally familair name.

Visitors will be coming off the motorway and stopping by to see the village for many decades to come because Henry Healy – like Barack Obama – had a dream to invite the US President to meet his Irish ancestors.

Moneygall residents have put together a special commemorative booklet to celebrate the arrival of Mr Obama on May 23.

The publication, like the PR campaign to get Barack Obama’s attention on Moneygall, has been a voluntary effort.

It includes interesting articles from the characters central to the Moneygall story from US genealogist Megan Smolenyak – the persistent family tree investigator who initially traced Barack Obama’s roots to Co Offaly in 2007 – to people such as the local national school principal in Moneygall, Eugene Ryan.

‘Another Irish American leader’

RTE broadcaster Ryan Tubridy has written the foreword for the booklet, which will be available for tourists in the Guinness Storehouse.

In it he refers to how Patrick Kennedy left the shores of New Ross in 1848. “Little did he know that this was the first domino to fall in an extraordinary adventure that would lead, within three generations to the door of the White House. Through hard work and steely resolve, the Kennedy clan fought and worked their way to the top of the political jungle,” he writes.

“If you replace the name Kennedy with Obama in that last paragraph, we could be talking about the same man. Although president Obama’s Irish blood has travelled a little further than that of President Kennedy, that doesn’t mean he’s any less Irish to us!”

President of the Irish American Democrats Stella O’Leary also writes about how proud she is that the Democratic Party has produced “once again” an Irish American leader.

“While we must share his ancestry with others, we are vain enough to claim that his best political instincts are a product of his Irish roots.”

‘Shrubbery of the foreigners’

There are interesting facts in the book including information on what is behind the name Moneygall – or Muine Gall in Irish. The name means “the shrubbery of the foreigners”.

“History tells us that as the Noresemen were retreating from the Battle of Roscrea in 942, they were overtaken and killed in this area. It is believed that human remains unearthed near Moneygall in the 19th century, are the remains of these Norsemen.”

In 1841 the population of the Moneygall parish was 8,500. Astonishingly, 30 years later in 1871 it was just 4,000. Today the population has plunged to around 1,700 in the parish – or 350 in the village. The sharp decline in the mid- 19th century came about because of the devastation caused by the Famine.

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