Irish village embraces Obama as its own
The president's trip to Ireland is seen as a symbol of US-Irish solidarity in hard economic times, but his stop in tiny Moneygall, where his Irish ancestors lived, has been a cause for celebration among residents.
Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland
The Birther movement may have been trying to prove President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, but perhaps they should have argued he was born in Ireland. Many here are more than happy to claim him as Irish as he makes his first state visit to the country.Skip to next paragraph
Hot on the heels of last week's state visit by British Queen Elizabeth, President Obama arrived in Ireland today and Obamamania is already in full swing. He met this morning with Irish president Mary McAleese about peace in northern Ireland and with Prime Minister Enda Kenny about economic policy, but as far as most Irish are concerned, the visit is really about his public appearances, when he addresses a celebration in Dublin and makes a trip to rural Ireland.
The small County Offaly village of Moneygall is home to just under 300 people, including distant relatives to Barack Obama. The town's main street is decked out with both American and Irish flags, the houses and shops are freshly painted, and not a pothole can be found.
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Moneygall resident Mary Ryan says residents are delighted to get a chance to see the most powerful man in the world.
“It’s fantastic for the village. There’s a great buzz around the place and a great community spirit. Everybody’s out helping to prepare,” she says.
Solidarity in dark times
Outside Moneygall, the fact that the US president is willing to come to Ireland is being viewed as an important gesture of friendship by those living in a battered nation.
“I think we’re going through a massive identity crisis after the economic crash and Catholic church abuse scandals, asking ‘are we a failed state?’” says Lindsey Earner-Byrne, a historian at University College Dublin.
Despite being merely a whistle-stop tour that lasts just 24 hours, Obama’s visit to his distant ancestors’ homeland of County Offaly and to Dublin is being greeted with significant enthusiasm. It stands in sharp contrast to last week's visit by the British queen, which, while highlighting the improved relations between Ireland and Britain, was a muted affair.
The brief US presidential visit is being seen as a show of solidarity in dark times.
“It’s a much less complicated relationship [but] it’s also a case of knowing we have friends,” says Dr. Earner Byrne. “Who [else] wants to be associated with Ireland at the moment?”
Claiming US presidents as Irish has been par for the course since the era of President John F. Kennedy. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton enjoyed warm welcomes – particularly Mr. Clinton, who is revered for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.