Moneygall may never be the same again. Last Monday’s visit by President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama to the Offaly village has given hopes of better times to come if it becomes a tourist destination.
Portlaoise man Tim Keane can trace his connections a little easier than the President, being married to Moneygall lady Josephine (nee Hogan), whose family still live in and around the tiny village.
Together with their granddaughter Aimee, they were in the thick of it last Monday, and it was a day to savour for a long time to come, according to Tim.
“It was a fantastic day. The atmosphere was electric, it was like waiting for Christmas for weeks before it, and you could see the population growing as everyone came home,” he recalls.
The family applied for their passes along with every other member of the village, as part of a high security operation overseen by the Secret Service.
“Everyone right down to the babies that Obama held, had to have a pass and identification,” said Tim, adding that security was tight but friendly on the day, with guards posted outside every house.
“I have to compliment the guards. They came on Friday morning, and stood in fields, on every corner, everywhere, I’ve never seen them so courteous and helpful. The committee of volunteers did a great job too,” praised Tim.
Locals and visitors had to gather outside the village that morning and form a queue to reenter the street, where they were cordoned off, five deep, for several hours of waiting.
“We were allowed in to use a toilet, but we were scanned again by the secret service when we came out. It lashed rain three times, but still everyone was in good humour, and the High Kings came and kept us entertained,” he said.
The Obamas arrived around 3pm and, undaunted by a heavy shower, began to meet all the waiting crowds.
“They greeted practically everyone, walking down then back up the street before heading into Ollie Haye’s pub,” says Tim, who was kept busy with his camera.
When it was all over and the visitors had departed, everyone filed into Ollie Hayes’ pub where a marquee was set up for further well deserved celebrations.
Preparations for the visit had been underway for months. The whole village received a free coat of paint, though one householder went further, painting huge Irish and American flags on their walls. Supermacs built a motorway plaza and restaurant especially for the visit. New businesses such as a cafe and a t-shirt shop opened up and Collison’s now has a souvenir section.
One octogenarian lady has even put off retirement.
“Julia Hayes runs the pub across the road from Ollie Hayes’, she’s going to keep working for another while now,” Tim says laughing
The positive effects of the visit are felt by his granddaughter too, a pupil at Sacred Heart in Portlaoise.
“Aimee is delighted, she’s gone into school this morning with all the photos,” her grandad said proudly.