In the lead up to US President Obama’s visit to his ancestral homeland of Moneygall, Co. Offaly on May 23, some people (namely, me) are asking, “What the devil is there in Moneygall?”An apt question and one, it seems, without a good answer. The answer is, in fact, there’s not much in Moneygall. According to the Irish Independent, the village, which has little more than 300 residents, doesn’t even have a cafe or restaurant, nor any public toilets to cater to the throngs of TV crews, tourism professionals, news media and CIA agentsthat are descending upon the village in preparation for the president’s visit.
So what does Moneygall have to offer? Well, it has two pubs, one of which – Ollie Hayes Pub – (run by none other than… Ollie Hayes…) will purportedly host the prez as he takes his first sips of Guinness on Irish soil. Though there were some nasty rumours circulating that Obama would be bringing his own beer for the ceremonial pint, it turns out that St. James’ Gate is sending a special barrel brewed for the occasion.
Also in town is Obama’s ancestral parish, where his quadruple-great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney, was christened. It is rumoured that Obama plans to visit the parish and see his family records.
Tourism in Moneygall
If you are planning tourism to the area, the best course of action is to stop off in Moneygall for a pint before continuing onwards to Tullamore, the nearest tourist center, where a number of events will be taking place throughout the summer. Additionally, the Slieve Bloom Mountains cut a huge swath across Co. Offaly, offering a haven of forests, streams, boglands and valleys that are ideal for hillwalkers.
Co. Offaly is itself a good place to explore Ireland’s biodiversity, as there are a number of walking and hiking destinations further north in the county, and Offaly also has a few historic castles and monastic sites to explore.
About 30 km from Moneygall, Birr Castle is a 12th century Norman castle with impressive walled gardens and a historic science center that houses a giant 19th century telescope. Also nearby is the Lough Boora Parklands, a protected wetland and forest area where nature enthusiasts will find a diverse number of local flora and fauna in a virtually untouched environment. There are also some unique modern sculptures scattered around the park.
For more information on visiting Moneygall and buying your souvenir Obama shirts, you can check out the gloriously twee Moneygall.com, while Offaly Tourism has some good recommendations for getting further afield in the county.