Offaly village prepares to celebrate Obama inauguration

Barack Obama’s ancestral Irish homestead could be transformed into a museum or heritage centre to welcome the President-elect to Ireland should he visit in the future.

As preparations get under way in Washington DC for the momentous inauguration this week, the tiny village of Moneygall, Co Offaly is considering ways to honour the historic connection.

Records uncovered in 2007 found the President-elect’s fourth great-grandfather was a shoemaker in the midlands village whose son Fulmuth Kearney left for the US in the 1850s.

The land – known in the area as Kearney’s Gardens – is owned by Offaly County Council which had been intending to sell the strip to develop housing.

But the authority is now holding on to it after a local councillor said its momentous history should be officially recognised.

“What I asked Offaly County Council to do is to withdraw that land of the market and look at the possibility of putting up some sort of heritage centre, museum, some sort of monument,” Fianna Fáil’s Peter Ormond said.

“Its not going to happen overnight. But I’d like to see something there within the next couple of years, in time for if Obama does ever decide to come to Ireland.”

Moneygall was put on the map after a local Church of Ireland vicar uncovered records in the home of an elderly parishioner which tied the political leader to the village.

Locals, who have grasped hold of the connection with enthusiasm, threw a celebration party on news of Obama’s victory last November and there are plans for another to mark inauguration night.

Nothing remains of the Kearney homestead and surrounding land, which ironically once belonged to the family of Obama’s distant cousin, Henry Healy.

They were forced to give it up 30 years ago after the local authority compulsorily purchased it for new housing, but just four properties were built on the field.

Backing plans for the site to be developed into a heritage centre, Mr Healy also suggested a children’s activity park given Obama’s background in community work.

“As well as a heritage centre, I think there’s plenty of space for a playground for children which is a badly needed resource in the area, which could be named after him.”

Mr Healy, along with Canon Stephen Neill, the rector who discovered the Moneygall/Obama link, will travel to Washington DC today for an inauguration party organised by the Irish/American Democrats.

The Corrigan Brothers who released the song ’There’s no-one as Irish as Barack Obama’ will also travel to perform at the inauguration.

And how does he feel to have such a famous relative?

“At the time, in May 2007, the first question I said was who is Barack Obama?,” Mr Healy said.

“He was an unknown in the world stage, but low and behold, I’m only too delighted to say that I have some link to him now.”

Meanwhile Ireland’s top envoy in the US is to represent the Government at Mr Obama’s inauguration.

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins will join other international guests at the lavish ceremony on Tuesday.

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