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Sunday 15 September 2019

Village hit by Reagan zeal recalls 'massive success'

Barry Duggan in Ballyporeen

THE leader of the free world descending on a small Irish village to trace his ancestry isn't a phenomenon unique to Moneygall.

And just as preparations for Barack Obama's visit are consuming the village on the Offaly-Tipperary border, residents in Ballyporeen were also swept up in presidential fervour in 1984.

It had been established four years earlier that Ronald Reagan's great-grandfather came from south Tipperary, and changes were quickly afoot.

"Everyone thinks we renamed the pub," publican Mary O'Farrell said. "We only renamed the lounge around 1980. The pub was still O'Farrell's and the 'Ronald Reagan Lounge'.

"The priest at the time said there were people in the village running away with themselves."

Homes were painted, roads resurfaced, new trees planted, derelict sites cleared, the telephone exchange went automatic, and four new payphones and new public toilets were installed along with a new ESB transformer when it emerged that Mr Reagan would visit in June 1984.

And having a lounge named in his honour was enough to persuade Mr Reagan and his wife Nancy to have a drink there, with the president opting for a pint of Smithwicks.

"The time itself was absolutely fantastic, it was something you could not buy," Mrs O'Farrell said.


"The telephone system at the time was second to none. Eight bed and breakfasts opened. There was a couple of cafes, including one called 'The White House'.

"Shops began selling souvenirs and a gift shop opened. There was 30,000 here on the Sunday before he came."

The icing on the cake was the Ronald Reagan tourist centre. "I think the centre cost £80,000 at the time. . . It was very successful for a while, but it has since closed.

"The bed and breakfasts and shops went also -- maybe four to five years later. There were tourists coming, but not enough to sustain it. It was of benefit for a few years, but eventually it died down."

O'Farrell's and the Ronald Reagan lounge closed in January 2004 and the entire pub interior was shipped to the Ronald Reagan President Library and Museum in California where it has been completely reassembled.

And Mrs O'Farrell's advice to Moneygall? "Definitely enjoy it. It is something nowhere else will have. Make a few bob out of it as well," she said.

"If the whole community puts their heads together, it can be a massive success."

She also offers some valuable advice to Moneygall publican Ollie Hayes as he restocks the bar for Mr Obama.

"He (Reagan) had a pint of Smithwicks here. He drank it all, but the Secret Service brought the barrel of Smithwicks with them beforehand -- for security reasons.

"I hope Ollie Hayes is ready for all this," Mrs O'Farrell added.

Irish Independent

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