Irish ancestral village hopes for Obama's re-election

On May 23 last year, the US president and his wife Michelle spent a few hours in the village during a whirlwind visit to Ireland.

Tracing his roots back: During their May 2011 visit to Ireland, Barack Obama and wife Michelle enjoyed a pint of Guinness at a pub as they visited Moneygall village in Offaly, Ireland, where Obama’s great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney hailed from. Pic/AFP

An amateur genealogist had traced Obama’s ancestors back to Moneygall, where his great-great-great grandfather was a shoemaker in the 19th century.

Villagers will gather in the pub owned by Ollie Hayes on Tuesday to watch the overnight US election coverage hoping one of their own will once again be voted into the White House.

Though the Obama visit has boosted trade, it has also done something else for Moneygall.

Henry Healy, the president’s distant cousin who led the Obamas on their tour of the village, and who visited them in Washington for Saint Patrick’s Day this year, said it had renewed community spirit.

“This isn’t about business; it’s about community,” he said. “A lot of that community spirit would have been lost during the Celtic Tiger years,” he said, referencing Ireland’s economic boom which crashed spectacularly in 2008.

“It gave the place a big lift. We want Obama to stay in the White House and maybe come back again if he gets re-elected.” Local businesswoman Annette Costello, who runs the Obama Cafe, was sweeping up inside after a group of Spanish visitors came through.

A life-size cardboard cut-out of the president smiles down from the wall. “We would have had none of this if the president hadn’t visited,” said Costello.

In December 2010, the opening of the motorway killed all passing trade. “But the visit put us back on the map again. It’s like a dream; it’s just fantastic,” she said.

One of the striking things about the village is how grateful people are for the visit. Everyone, it seems, has an Obama-related story to tell.

In Hayes’ pub, where Obama sampled a Guinness, television coverage of the visit plays on a loop on a big screen. Little US flags are hung across the bar. Business has been strong since, with opening hours extended and food added to service.

“What has surprised me is the amount of Irish people who have come down here to see the place — that’s been a huge boost,” said Hayes.

International tourists have turned up, along with Americans of both the Republican and Democratic persuasion.

“Either they love Obama or, well, let’s just put it kindly and say they won’t be voting for him any time soon. But they still come in and see what it's all about,” he added.

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