Sunday 30 April 2017

Moneygall moves on as hometown hero Barack Obama bows out

Barack Obama enjoying a pint of Guinness in Ollie Hayes Bar in Moneygall, Co Offaly during his 2011 visit
Barack Obama enjoying a pint of Guinness in Ollie Hayes Bar in Moneygall, Co Offaly during his 2011 visit
Jason Kennedy

Jason Kennedy

If an international visitor were to wander into Moneygall in Summer, they’d be forgiven for assuming they’re in the quintessential all-American town.

The red, white and blue star spangled banners seasonally adorn the Offaly town’s streets since hometown hero Barack Obama’s visit almost six years ago.

Since the Democrat’s first inauguration in 2009, Moneygall has been the place to be to celebrate, but there is no party in the town today.

Ollie Hayes is watching the Inauguration on his pub’s television. Photos of Obama's visit to the pub line the walls. The €50 the former Commander in Chief gave the barman in exchange for a pint of Guinness is proudly framed for all to see.

In 2008, the bar was jammed with locals and tourists alike.

International media broadcast vans and food stalls lined the street, as the party went on into the early hours.

Four years ago, Ollie decided to spend Inauguration Day in Washington DC.

Not too long after arriving, he received a call from White House officials, inviting him and his cohort to spend the day alongside the Obama family and other special guests.

Today, a handful of punters with pints in their hands watched on as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

Directly after Trump’s speech, most of the customers left and a match replaced the politics.

"It was the end today for him, but the beginning of a new era for him too," Mr Hayes, who met Obama multiple times since their first encounter told Independent.ie.

The President's visit, along with his wife Michelle, has not only made a tourist attraction out of the midlands town, but it has also brought jobs to the area.

The famous Barack Obama Plaza was opened just outside Moneygall in 2014 and is managed by Obama’s closest Irish relation, his eighth cousin Henry Healy.

Inside is a Spar, Topaz, coffee shop and Supermacs. Upstairs, a visitor centre highlights how many US Presidents had either a genealogical link or a fondness for Ireland.

Although the political clamour may have left Moneygall, the 44th President of America has changed the town forever, according to Mr Hayes.

"There's still a big interest in Obama here, but you wouldn't be getting the crowds anymore. It's a seasonal thing really, but it'll never be forgotten. He's marked the village forever. Even after I'm gone, it'll be known as the village that President Obama came to. He had a great love of his visit here," he said.

"Look at the Kennedys in Wexford. When you hear of Ballyporeen, you'll think of Ronald Reagan. Well, when you hear of Moneygall, you'll think of Barack Obama."

The village committee has yet to come to a decision whether to bring the American flags out of hibernation in 2017. They had an extra long rest,having been temporarily replaced with tricolours to commemorate the Rising Centenary.

However, they may have a really good reason to take the flags out of retirement in the next year or so, as Obama intends to return to Ireland within the next year or so.

"Well, if he comes back to Moneygall, I'll have a pint waiting for him," Ollie says.

"No bother."

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