By Ronan Dodd and Eoin Kelleher
NORTH Tipperary County Council may find itself out in the cold during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Moneygall - if their counterparts in Offaly decide not to include them in the celebrations.
One Council source, who wished to be nameless, said that there were already moves afoot to contact the County Managers in Offaly and in Tipperary to work something out and to see what role, if any, North Tipperary will have in the visit.
“Moneygall is often regarded as occupied Tipp. The hurling is in North Tipperary, the Garda Division is in North Tipperary and the people are in North Tipperary for voting under the new Dail constituency. We are not going to give them (Offaly) the opportunity to leave us out of the visit,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the upcoming visit is generating huge excitement in the border town, whose loyalties are torn between Tipp and Offaly. Local publicans Ollie and Majella Hayes told the Tipperary Star that a committee is forming to liaise with the Council, gardai, and LEADER Offaly in advance of the historic visit. Duluxe Paint have donated paint free of charge to every house on the Main Street, and the its hoped extra Council money will be found to spruce up approach roads and streets.
“It’s a big job to undertake. An open meeting will be held in the Legion Hall here on Friday night, and we’ll take it from there, “ said Mr Hayes. A long term plan is also being formulated to boost the town’s profile, now that the M7 motorway has opened up and there’s less traffic. “We expect him to come to the village and have a look at his ancestral home, the home of Fulmouth Kearney,” added Mr Hayes. The President may also take in the local school, and the Church where Obama’s eighth cousin, Henry Healy, and local Canon Stephen Neil discovered the link between Obama and the Kearneys of Moneygall.
On Friday evening at 7pm, a meeting will hear residents’ concerns about possible intrusion into their privacy from US security services during the visit. Already some locals are thinking of inviting in relatives so they can have a bird’s eye view of the first African American President from windows looking down on the street.
“We’re told that people living in the actual village will be allowed to go freely to their homes,” said Mr Hayes, who said he’d received phone calls from all over Ireland and beyond in the run up to the visit.
Obama’s Irish ancestral home is owned by local shopkeeper John Donovan, who told the Tipperary Star that the President’s ancestral home was willed to him by his late mother, who had inherited it from her father John Tierney. His wife - John Donovan’s grandmother - hailed from Thurles. Bridget Carew had grown up on Friar Street, said Mr Donovan.
“It puts us firmly on the map,” added Mr Donovan, who was “delighted and surprised” when he learned of the link between his grandparent’s home and Obama’s roots. The house may yet be turned into a heritage museum or visitor centre in honour of the President.
Local shopkeeper Sadie Flaherty said it would create a huge buzz around town “now that the traffic is gone”, while Julianne Hayes, who lives across from Ollie Hayes’ bar, said “the excitement has started. It’s hard to believe it. I’m delighted that I’ll be here to see it.” Nenagh man Billy Flannery, who happened to be passing through town, said: “It’s bound to be good for Moneygall.”
Local representatives from across the political divide welcomed the visit. “It is fantastic that President Obama is coming to Ireland,” said Deputy Alan Kelly. “In particular, I’m delighted he will be visiting Moneygall. As a local TD and Minister in the area, I am absolutely thrilled to see the President visit the home of his ancestors. The visit presents a massive opportunity for the North Tipperary and South Offaly area.”
Deputy Kelly said that “collectively we all need to be preparing for the visit to ensure we maximise the economic potential for the area. I’ll certainly be playing my part in that.” He said that from a tourism standpoint, the visit created huge opportunities.
“The world’s media will be on us and we need to showcase all that is great about our country and this area. I will be working with my colleagues in Government and in my own Department, along with the local county councils to ensure the potential of this visit is maximised to the full,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Coonan, who also warmly greeted the news of the visit, highly complimented the efforts of Canon Stephen Neill and the residents of Moneygall in helping to secure the visit.
The local Fine Gael TD revealed that he had spoken with Taoiseach Enda Kenny prior to his St Patrick’s Day trip to the US and hand delivered documents from Canon Neill to Mr Kenny, which he then brought to America.
“These same documents outlined the President’s strong ancestral history in Moneygall,” he said.
Deputy Coonan said he was pleased his efforts had helped this historical visit come to fruition.
“I look forward with excitement to President Obama’s visit, which will be a huge tourism boost to the area. The people of Moneygall have shown great patience, goodwill and dedication in their plight for this visit to materialise, and those same traits will be recognised when President Obama comes to our constituency in May. It will be a momentous and uplifting occasion for our constituency,” he said.
The Mayor of North Tipperary, Cllr John Kennedy, also welcomed the visit.
“I want to welcome the visit by President Obama. This presents a great opportunity to showcase this entire area and will have a fantastic spin-off for tourism at a a time when the country badly needs a lift,” he said.