‘You tell me when it's properly settled, I don't want to mess this up, ’Obama said
‘But what do we do while it settles?’ the First Lady asked
Published 24/05/2011 | 05:00
IT'S the kind of place you'd associate more with a few old men sitting around listening to a championship match on the wireless, rather than a stop-off for the most powerful man on the planet.
The sunlight -- which had come and gone all day -- peered inside the closed curtains of the darkened bar, with its low ceilings, maroon seats and stained-glass windows.
But the giveaway signs that this was no ordinary bar, and this no ordinary day, were on the walls.
Posters from the US presidential campaign in 2008, the iconic blue and red "hope" banner among them, hung there.
There was another banner over the bar shouting 'Welcome to Ireland', and a framed T-shirt with a cartoon of US President Barack Obama holding a pint of Guinness and the words: 'O'bama's Irish Pub'.
The small crowd of around 30 people in Ollie Hayes's bar didn't have long to see the real-life President Barack Obama slug deep on a pint, the Moneygall moneyshot everyone wanted.
After shaking hands with hundreds of people on the village's main street, Mr Obama put his hand on his wife's back at 3.45pm, and he and First Lady Michelle stepped in to meet their relatives.
To start, Mr and Mrs Obama were shown the records which traced him to the Kearneys of Moneygall by Canon Stephen Neill.
It was a private moment, with access to the bar closed until Mr Obama had finished looking at the historical documents.
Then his eighth cousin, Henry Healy, introduced him to members of the Donovan, Benn and Healy families, who all share connections to the president.
Henry introduced him to his uncle Johnny, who had also researched the Kearney side of the family, where the link was found.
"Hello uncle, it's very nice to meet you!" Mr Obama told his 72-year-old seventh cousin.
The president was all charm, the no-drama Obama who supposedly dislikes sentiment was left on the tarmac at Dublin Airport.
It was hello, how are you, and good to see you -- all said with genuine warmth and that megawatt smile. One woman asked for a kiss.
"You don't get a kiss -- you get a hug," he said.
"You look a little like my grandfather," he told another man.
"We got to get a good picture with everybody," he said, pulling Henry Healy, uncle Johnny and others in.
"Michelle, squeeze in here. We got a family tree here and everything."
With the shot taken, the president made an impromptu speech, in which he thanked everyone for their hospitality and highlighted the connection between Ireland and America.
"There are millions of Irish Americans who trace their ancestry back to this beautiful island," he said.
"And with that, I call for a pint," he shouted when the speech was finished.
Henry Healy, in the background, yelped: "Yes, we can."
As music played, the president stepped up to the bar to greet Ollie Hayes.
"Good to see ya sir," he said, shaking Mr Hayes's hand, before turning on the charm with Mr Hayes's wife Majella.
He told her she looked beautiful, and said he suspected she wasn't always so glamorous at work.
"She looks spectacular! She looks like she's going to the ball!"
And then the order went in: a pint of Guinness for the president and a glass for the first lady.
"You tell me when it's properly settled, I don't want to mess this up," the president said.
'What do we do while it settles?" the first lady asked.
"I've been told it makes a difference who the person behind the bar is, that people are very particular who is pouring the Guinness, am I right about that?" Mr Obama asked to cheers.
"So people vouch for this guy?"
When the locals told him Ollie Hayes was the best man to pour a pint, the president joked: "Like Muhammad Ali, he's the greatest!"
"I just want to make it clear, the president pays his bar tab," he added, before slapping a €50 note, accepted by Mr Hayes, on the table.
And when the drinks were ready, the president held his up, gave a cheers and a slainte, and took a deep gulp.
The pub cheered, and the cameras flashed.
"It's delicious," he said, before recounting his first ever taste of Guinness during a stopover at Shannon Airport while en route to Afghanistan.
"I realised it tastes so much better here than in the United States.
"You're keeping all the best stuff here."
The press were ushered outside, and the president, Mrs Obama, US Ambassador Dan Rooney and others lingered a while longer.
The president finished his pint, and Mrs Obama asked if she could try her hand at pulling one.
The first couple stepped behind the bar.
Mrs Obama pulled two pints, one going to parish priest Fr Joe Kennedy and the other to Mr Rooney.
As she and Mr Obama left Ollie Hayes's pub at 10 past four, one secret service man said to himself: "This is what it's all about."
It was hard to disagree.
Irish Independent Supplement