Monday, May 23, 2011

Moneygall Magic: President Obama Shares A Pint With Irish Relatives At Ollie Hayes Pub

"What a thrill," President says of the visit to his ancestral village...
It was the moment everyone in the village of Moneygall was waiting for on Monday afternoon: After greeting a crowd of thousands, visiting the home of his great-great-great-grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, and stopping in to a small shop on Main Street, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama entered the pub owned by Ollie Hayes at 3:45 PM local time, to huge cheers. They sipped Guinness with a crowd of about three dozen villagers, including many of Mr. Obama's distant relations--and his most locally famous Irish relative, 26-year-old Henry Healy, his eighth cousin, know in the village as King Henry VIII. Mrs. Obama also got a lesson in pulling the perfect pint from publican Hayes. (Above: Mrs. Obama in action as the President and Hayes look on)

The pub, one of just two in the block-long village in County Offaly, is decorated with Obama memorabilia, including a faux bronze bust of the President that sits on the bar. 2008 campaign posters adorn the walls, as does a t-shirt encased in a picture frame with Mr. Obama's likeness, and the words "O'Bama's Irish Pub." A banner hung over the bar: "Welcome to Ireland!"

The President and First Lady were met with shouts of "welcome home" as they walked along Main Street and shook hands, but the minutes in Hayes' pub were the real homecoming, as they got to spend private time with their newly met relations. The President is related to three different families in the village: The Healys, the Donovans, and the Kearneys.

"You look a little like my grandfather," President Obama said to one man. "We got a family tree here and everything."

Mrs. Obama put her arm around cousin Henry, as they stood at the bar, and whispered to him. Healy is an accountant for a local plumbing firm, and his relationship to President Obama dates to 1761, when there was a marriage between Sarah Healy and Joseph Kearney, the great-great-grandfather of Falmouth Kearney. (Above: Healy at the bar with the bronze bust of the President)

The President and First Lady posed for dozens of "family photos," both separately and together.

"Michelle, squeeze in here," President Obama said as he stood with one villager, before making brief formal remarks.

"What a thrill it is to be here," President Obama said. "There are millions of Irish Americans who trace their ancestry back to this beautiful island. Part of why this makes it so special is because the Irish influence on American culture is so powerful in the arts, in politics, in commerce."

At the conclusion, he said: "And with that let me have a pint."

The President escorted Mrs. Obama to the bar, where Ollie Hayes stood ready to pull pints. She'd had an outfit change since the morning in Dublin, and wore a rose-colored dress with a cream colored coat.

"I've been told it makes a difference who the person behind the bar is, that people are very particular who is pouring the Guinness, am I right about that?" President Obama said to the crowd.

The crowd roared "yeah!"

"So people asked for this guy?" President Obama said of Hayes.

More crowd cheers. "He's the best," the crowd responded.

After Hayes placed the pints of Guinness on the bar, the President asked for instructions.

"You tell me when it's properly settled, I don't want to mess this up," President Obama said. "I want to get it perfect."

"What do we do while it settles?" Mrs. Obama asked.

"You sing," Cousin Healy offered. "You chat."

President Obama made the traditional Irish toast before trying his Guinness.

"Slainte!" he said, and took a swig big enough to elicit cheers.

The First Lady had a half pint, while the President had a pint.

"Yes we can!" one man yelled. The President drank at least three quarters of his pint, according to pool.

As he made more small talk with Hayes, the President mentioned that the first time he had had a Guinness was on a stopover at Shannon Airport on his way to Afghanistan.

"It was the middle of the night, and I tried one of these and I realized it tastes so much better here than in the United States," President Obama said. "You're keeping all the best stuff here."

"How often has our staff been in here?" the First Lady asked.

"How much advance did they do?" President Obama asked.

And then it was time to head back to Dublin for a massive address on College Green.

"I just want you to know the president pays," President Obama said as he put down some cash on the bar.

President Obama is the sixth US president to visit Ireland. The others were John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton--who went three times--George W. Bush. At left, the graphic on t-shirts that are being sold at Ollie Hayes pub to commemorate the President's visit.

The Obamas flew back to Dublin after the family reunion, so the President could address more than 25,000 people on College Green. The Icelandic volcano eruption forced a change in plans: Rather than spending the night in Dublin, the presidential couple departed on Monday night for London, after a private dinner at US Ambassador Dan Rooney's residence. They were scheduled to spend the night at Winfield House in London, home of the US Ambassador to England.

In the morning in Dublin, President Obama and the First Lady visited with Irish President Mary McAleese, and planted an Irish oak in Phoenix Park. The President also met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who presented him with special gifts. Lunch was at the American Embassy, during a closed-press meet n' greet with staff. Moenygall foodie homage for President Obama included special breads and special Obama commemorative chocolates, as well as Moneygall's first restaurant, The Obama Cafe.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House. Others by Reuters and Getty pool. RTE One video.