Thursday 14 December 2017

Lack of food or toilets drives tourists away from village

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Thousands of tourists and foreign media crews arriving in US President Barack Obama’s Irish ancestral village are being forced to leave because there is no restaurant and no public toilets.

Just one week before Mr Obama's arrival in the tiny village of Moneygall, Co Offaly, the authorities have yet to provide catering facilities for visitors from Ireland and abroad.

Chip vans have also been banned from Moneygall for the day of the visit because of traffic restrictions, the Irish Independent has learned.

There is no restaurant or cafe in the village -- and no signage pointing tourists to the nearest eatery or filling station.

The number of tourists descending on Moneygall is set to rocket in the coming week.

Local publican Ollie Hayes does not have the necessary licence to sell food to hungry visitors. Irish businessman and Supermacs founder Pat McDonagh, who is building the Barack Obama Plaza -- a €7m development off the M7 -- told the Irish Independent he had enquired about providing catering in Moneygall but "as of yet, we heard nothing".

"Thousands will be coming here. We enquired about it but I was told there wouldn't be any wagons or catering vans allowed. I want to provide these facilities as an Irish businessman who can see the opportunity is there."

He added: "I think both the queen's visit and the Barack Obama visit mean Ireland has a unique opportunity of showcasing itself worldwide and I hope this opportunity won't be missed."

Community efforts have been astonishing in Moneygall, yet no information office has been opened in the village. Mr Hayes and Henry Healy -- a distant cousin of Mr Obama -- are doing their utmost to welcome tourists by working around the clock.

Maps and leaflets have been left inside Mr Hayes's bar but the traditional pub is not staffed to deal with the influx of curious -- and hungry -- visitors.

An expensive advertising campaign is being run on radio and television on the visits of the queen and Mr Obama. But punters were still unable to buy as much as a bag of chips in the village on Saturday.

The Obama Cafe, which is being built hurriedly, is now unlikely to open until one month after the president's arrival. Plans are afoot for catering and portaloos, but as of last weekend, the masses -- including the CIA -- left the village because they couldn't buy lunch there. Mr Obama's advance security team arrived before noon on Saturday in a fleet of Chrysler cars, then departed after a quick sweep around the village. CNN, BBC, Agence France Presse, Al-Jazeera, and British newspapers are just some of the foreign media visitors to descend on Moneygall in recent days.

Offaly County Council was in favour of allowing caterers in on the day of the visit; however, a cordon being put in place by gardai means the vehicles can't be in the village during Mr Obama's visit.

Tourism Minister Leo Varadaker was contacted for a comment yesterday. However, his department said this matter did not fall under his remit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, which is in charge of the visit, did not respond.

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