Ever heard of Moneygall? It’s the village in Ireland with the Barack Obama Plaza.
The 44th US President is part Irish on his mother’s side. Here’s the connection.
On March 20, 1850, young Falmouth Kearney of Moneygall stepped off the ship Marmion and into the USA after a long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Falmouth was about to begin a new life in a new country.
The US President then was General Zachary Taylor, 50 years old and destined to die of a sudden illness just four months later. After President Taylor, Falmouth saw seven more Presidents in the White House, ending with number 19, Rutherford B. Hayes.
Falmouth didn’t go to the US on his own. He travelled with his sister and her husband. Their father was already in Ohio, working on the farm he’d inherited from his brother. Bit by bit, other family members, including Falmouth’s mother, made the journey.
Falmouth married a local lady and after several generations of begetting and begatting, their great-great-granddaughter had a son name Barack Hussein Obama.
In 2007, when Barack Obama was a Senator hoping to become President, Ancestry.com put out a press release detailing Obama’s Irish heritage. More information came to light over the years following Obama’s election.
The Obamas visit Moneygall
When Moneygall heard that President Obama might visit Ireland, the tiny town went into overdrive.
Moneygall’s prayers were answered when the Obamas did indeed make a trip there during an official visit to Ireland in 2011. The town of 300 turned out in full force, after spending months sprucing up every house with paint donated by Dulux. When the big day came, there was lots of hugging, handshaking, and some Guinness.
The Irish sense of hospitality and good humour are still well in evidence at the Barack Obama Plaza, which opened in 2014. This is one of the few places I would consider buying an Irish Turf Peat Incense Cottage Burner Set and I really regret not having done it.
The Plaza isn’t your ordinary roadside service centre. It’s fairly big, with food and a unique selection of souvenirs on the ground floor. Upstairs there’s a free exhibition about the Irish roots of Obama and other US Presidents. A wall map shows a few of the many notable Irish emigrants who have made their mark around the world.
The drawing below is a good likeness of a photograph of Falmouth found only a few years ago in a scrapbook in Scotland, still in the possession of family members.
If you ask Americans to name an Irish-American President, I expect many will say John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Like the Kearneys, JFK’s Fitzgerald and Kennedy ancestors left Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine, when starvation and oppression drove so many people away.
Younger Americans might name a more recent President, Ronald Reagan.
Reagan (1911 – 2004) and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (born 1939) famously sang a little duet of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at their Shamrock Summit in 1985. The video clip below isn’t great quality but it’s interesting to look back and to hear the commentator call it “one of the most choreographed events in Canadian political history”.
Thinking back to my Barack Obama Plaza experience, I really should have bought some of the matching Barack and Falmouth Celtic Bookmarks. Now that I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce, I could use about a dozen of them.
You can find the Barack Obama Plaza about 150 km to the southwest of Dublin on the M7 motorway. It’s worth a look in.
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