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Dublin invites O'Bama back home

Moneygall business welcomes Obama win
Moneygall has pulled out all the stops to bring "home" Barack Obama.

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland Correspondent

In the race to jump on the Obama bandwagon, the Irish have been quick off the mark.

Never mind the US President-elect's 87-year-old grandmother in Kenya, what about his great-great-great grandfather from Co Offaly?

No sooner had the new president's victory been confirmed, than he was being invited to visit by the Irish government, and to retrace his roots in the small village of Moneygall, on the road between Dublin and Limerick.

The village has a population of less than 300 and only has two pubs, but the locals reckon they could cope.

Moneygall
I'm looking forward to going there and having a pint
President-elect Barack Obama

A welcome song has been written already.

The chorus goes: O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara, there's no-one as Irish as Barack Obama. From the old Blarney stone, to the green hills of Tara, there's no-one as Irish as Barack Obama.

For extra effect, when the song and lyrics appear on YouTube, an apostrophe magically appears to give O'Bama (sic) a more Irish feel.

So will the 44th President of the United States follow his immediate predecessors Bush and Clinton by visiting the Irish Republic?

On the face of it, there's very little chance of it happening. By his own admission, he has quite enough on his plate with two wars, a global economic crisis and a planet in peril.

Shoemaker

But optimists will point to a comment Mr Obama made on the campaign trail.

Talking to ITN's Northern Ireland-born Washington correspondent John Irvine, Mr Obama put his hand on Irvine's shoulder and said: "There's a little village in Ireland where my great-great-great-great grandfather came from so I'm looking forward to going there and having a pint."

Before the Irish start rolling out the red carpet and putting up the red-white-and-blue bunting in Moneygall, this comment needs to be seen in context.

It was five-second soundbite, said with a smile during hundreds of hours of interviews on the campaign trail. What's more, Mr Obama got his Irish connection slightly wrong - it was his great-great-great-grandfather rather than his great-great-great-great-grandfather.

Locals in the Hayes pub
Locals celebrate in the Hayes pub.

So what is the family link?

A Moneygall shoemaker called Fulmouth Kearney is Mr Obama's great-great-great grandfather. He emigrated to the US in 1850 at the tender age of 20.

He married Ohio-born Charlotte Holloway. They had eight children and so began the American family tree which culminated with Ann Dunham marrying Kenyan-born Barack Hussein Obama Snr, and the birth of Barack Jnr on 4 August 1961.

The Irish connection may be a distant-distant-distant one, but it didn't stop residents of Moneygall celebrating this week's US election result with a party at Hayes pub, and pouring a special pint in honour of their famous "son".

One of the local businesses already advertises itself as based in "the ancestral home of Barack Obama".

The village is reporting a flickering of interest from American tourists, with a couple from Indianapolis persuaded to interrupt a holiday in Limerick with an hour-long trip north to Moneygall.

Ian and Christy Walker told the Irish Times: "We went down to breakfast and the hostess said: 'Do you realise that Obama has Irish roots?' So we had to come to Moneygall."

We went down to breakfast and the hostess said 'Do you realise that Obama has Irish roots
Ian and Christy Walker
Tourists from Indianapolis

They were the first, but they probably won't be the last post-election visitors. And if the dollars keep coming, Moneygall will live up to its name.

Ireland is more than 3,000 miles from the White House but there is a long-standing presidential appeal. John F Kennedy came to visit in 1963, Ronald Reagan came in 1984, while Bill Clinton made three trips and George Bush came in 2004.

Between them, Mr Bush and Mr Clinton made four presidential visits to Northern Ireland, largely because of their involvement in the peace process.

How much attention Barack Obama pays to Northern Ireland will become clear on 17 March when, by tradition, he marks St Patrick's Day at the White House.

Mr Clinton used to throw a big party. Under Mr Bush, the occasion was always a more sober affair.

Given his mounting in-tray, Mr Obama may be too busy to do anything.

He is, we are told, a serious man for serious times.

But if things settle down in the Oval Office, there is a pint waiting for him on the bar at Hayes pub in Moneygall, and it's already getting warm.



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