Northern Ireland

Moneygall transformed for Barack Obama visit

The forthcoming visit to Ireland by American President Barack Obama has transformed the appearance of a small Irish village.

Moneygall in County Offaly is awash with paint, as the rural village prepares to welcome the most powerful man in the world in May.

President Obama's great, great, great grandfather came from Moneygall and the president plans to set foot in his ancestral home during his two-day visit to Ireland.

To ensure the presidential feet are made as comfortable as possible, the pavements are being dug up, re-laid and smoothed over. It is just one of many improvements being made.

Houses on the main street are being cleaned with power-hoses. Gardens are being tidied, new flowers are being planted.

The air in Moneygall is filled with the smell of paint. It seems like every spare brush in County Offaly is being used.

Every house is being made to look its best, in preparation for the visit, which is likely to take place on Monday 23 May.

The decision by one family to paint their house with the colours of the American flag has not gone down well with some of their neighbours.

"It looks a bit tacky," said one woman, as she watched the street turn red, white and blue.

But, overall, the small rural community has pulled together.

The parish rector, Canon Stephen Neill, said: "This has brought joy and excitement to the whole area. It's something to celebrate in what have been very dark times in our country economically."

Moneygall has already received an economic boost - 3,500 litres of free paint from Dulux to help with the make-over.

Image caption Preparations for President Obama's visit are meticulous

The village has no bank, no cash point, no coffee shop and a population of less than 300 people.

However, it does have two pubs, including Ollie Hayes's bar in the middle of the main street.

The pub is full of Obama memorabilia, including a life-size bust which has pride of place on the bar. Now, the man himself is likely to call in next month.

"It's something I never dreamt would happen in a small village like this," said Mr Hayes, as he served a group of American tourists.

"We're going to enjoy every minute of this."

Moneygall is in the heart of Ireland, about 90 minutes from Dublin, on the road to Limerick.

On St Patrick's Day in Washington, President Obama announced that not only would he be visiting Ireland in May but travelling to Moneygall to re-trace his Irish roots.

One of the villagers, Henry Healy, is the eighth cousin of Obama.

He said: "At first it felt almost surreal but now it's becoming very real. He's coming to Moneygall, he's coming to my home town and I'm hopeful reality will really kick in if I'm privileged to meet the man and shake his hand.

"You have to pinch yourself. I got a bit taken aback when I saw the CIA here two weeks ago.

"I can only imagine what my reaction will be when the man himself actually lands here in the village."

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."

In Ollie Hayes's pub, there is a fictitious picture of Obama in Moneygall listening to traditional Irish music and holding a pint of the black stuff.

Fiction is about to become reality. The only thing that can go wrong is if they run out of paint.

More on this story