Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ireland Preps For President Obama's Visit With Tight Security, Foodie Homage...And Rumors

Moneygall Mania: President's visit to home of his great-great-great-grandfather is creating a whirlwind of excitement, from Obama Bread to The Obama Cafe...and rumors that he's bringing his own Guinness...
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for the President's Ireland schedule and CLICK HERE for full four-nation schedule
Ireland has been going mad with preparations since President Obama, accompanied by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, announced on St. Patrick's Day that he will make his first visit to the country next week. The Irish have been claiming Barack O'bama as their own since the 2008 campaign, when genealogists discovered that his maternal great-great-great-grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, lived in the tiny village of Moneygall in County Offaly, before emigrating to New York in 1850. But the excitement is building as the rare visit from an American president nears. (Above: Irish Obama Bread, created to commemorate the visit)

"I can assure you, Mr. President, this visit will be rapturously received by the people of Ireland," Kenny told President Obama as they stood together during the East Room St. Pat's reception, and Kenny presented the President with a bowl of shamrock (above).

"Rapturously" might even be too soft an adjective. There were celebrations across Ireland during the President's inauguration, but his hours-long visit to Moneygall, population 298, on Monday, May 23rd, is now getting daily ink in Irish media.

A tiny village on the main road between Dublin and Limerick, Moneygall has suffered from Ireland's dramatic economic downturn, and was until recently filled with boarded-up shops and "to let" signs on the one-block Main Street. The enthusiastic locals have been hard at work sprucing thing up, led by a county committee. There's been painting and sidewalk laying in Moneygall, and "the first coffee shop has been erected on a derelict corner in record time," reported the Global Post. (Above: Main Street in Moneygall)

And there have already been Irish foods created in the President's honor, which typically happens when he travels abroad. Obama Bread, made to commemorate the visit, is being sold at Moneygall's post-office-cum-grocery store. Made by Dublin's Soul bakery, Obama Bread is billed on the label as "healthy Irish bread fit for a president."

There's also Barack's Brack, a special limited edition barmbrack - an Irish fruit bread -- from bread company Pat The Baker ("Ireland's best bread!"), which sells its goodies across the country. The commemorative tea cake contains a special 'el Presidente' mix of fruit, according to the company--though there's no explanation about why the mix gets a Spanish moniker. (Above, the commemorative brack)

"Hopefully someone will give Mr. Obama one. We are very proud of our bracks and I think he would enjoy it very much," wrote Oliver Durkin, Brand Manager for Pat The Baker, on the company website.

Pat The Baker is not new to Obama foodie homage: For the inauguration, the company created BarrackBrack, a slightly different version of the treat. Nothing like re-purposing a good idea.

There were even plans for The Obama Cafe in Moneygall, but it apparently won't be ready in time for the President's visit.

"A sign, decorated with images of pizza slices, hamburger and fries, promised: “It’s on the way...The Obama Cafe." But owner Paul Costello confided that Moneygall’s “first eating house” would not, in fact, be ready in time for the big day. However, he’s hoping to benefit in future, suggesting: “Let’s have an annual Obama festival,” reported the Irish Times.

Still, "village stores have been transformed into souvenir outlets for Obama memorabilia. Tourists can buy T-shirts proclaiming “Is Feider Linn!," Gaelic for “Yes we can!"... A large billboard detailing the Obama connection has been put up outside the old Kearney homestead, a modest two-story house with pebble-dash frontage," reported The Midland Record. (Above: A pin being sold in Moneygall)

Yet another Irish media outlet, the Independent, is focused on the fact that Moneygall is a food desert (so apparently First Lady Michelle Obama will feel right at home). "Lack of food or toilets drives tourists away from village," is the headline in a recent story about Moneygall.

"There is no restaurant or cafe in the village -- and no signage pointing tourists to the nearest eatery or filling station," sniffed the Independent. There are no public bathrooms, either, reported the Irish Times.

"Obama brings his own Guinness!"
There are just two pubs in Moneygall, and the one owned by longtime resident Ollie Hayes is getting all the attention for the President's visit, becoming the focus of rumors about both security and beer. It's the President's first trip abroad since American forces killed bin Laden, and security concerns are even more acute than usual. And as of Tuesday morning, they've heightened even more: A bomb was discovered and defused hours ahead of a visit to Dublin by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

In Moneygall, local media is reporting a constant Secret Service presence--and that extends to Hayes'' pub. "The US Secret Service will provide the beer in Ollie Hayes Pub in Moneygall when President Obama drops in for a pint later this month," reported The Midland Record, which titled its story "Obama Brings his own Guinness!"
Today, the Independent noted that "Mr. Obama's advanced security team was in Moneygall yesterday. Among the group of up to 60 officials were staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs."

"Security for the President’s visit to his ancestral home in Co. Offaly will be so tight that any beverage consumed by the President and his entourage will have to pass the scrutiny of the Secret Service," noted The Midland Record.

That's true, but it doesn't mean the President will arrive with his own keg. The world will know soon enough: Reporters from CNN, ABC, BBC, Reuters, the Boston Globe and 'Time' magazine arrived in Moneygall on Monday, according to the Independent.

The President's visit to Ireland comes ahead of his official State Visit to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which takes place from Tuesday, May 24 through Thursday May 26. The President and First Lady will stay at Buckingham Palace in London.

The White House has not yet released the schedule for the President's trip to Ireland, but Irish media is reporting that the US Embassy has given details of the schedule. President Obama will reportedly arrive on Air Force One at Dublin Airport at about 9.30 AM on Monday May 23rd. He will then travel to Phoenix Park to greet President Mary McAleese at Arás an Uachtaráin, before going to Farmleigh to meet Taoiseach Kenny. In the afternoon, the President will arrive at Moneygall GAA Club, and "is due to make a short address and enjoy a quick pint in the tiny Offaly village," according to one local outlet. He will then go back to Dublin for a rally either on O’Connell Street or College Green, and will stay in the residence of the US Ambassador before flying to London the following day.

*Top photo and pin by Reuters; Obama and Kenny photo from the White House; Brack image from Pat The Baker; Moneygall village photo by Sherwood Harrington.