Barack Obama has plenty of admirers, but some of his biggest fans are in a small Irish town.
Moneygall is a highway village that rests between the border of North Tipperary & South Offaly. A little over 300 people called Moneygall home, according to a 2016 census in Ireland, but it is also where one of former President Obama's ancestors comes from!
Near the village is the iconic Barack Obama Plaza that rests along the R445 motorway. At first glance, it may seem like a little gas station and rest stop filled with restaurants, shops, and other spots, but it's practically a memorial to Barack Obama's ties to Ireland. One of the first things you'll see is a bronze statue of 45 and former First Lady Michelle Obama waving and holding hands. Tour buses come by daily to see the center and its Obama-themed memorabilia.
"The crown jewel of the complex is the President Barack Obama Visitor Centre on the second floor of the rest stop, home to an exhibit entitled 'From Moneygall to the Whitehouse, The influence of the Irish abroad,'" according to Atlas Obscura.
Irish journalist Sinéad Baker explored the Centre for Business Insider and even visited the mini-museum dedicated to the former president. There are news publication covers of Obama, a bronze bust, a "Hollywood star" and more artifacts and art. There's even a section highlighting other U.S. presidents with Irish ancestry, including Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton.
But what caused all this Obama love? Let's wind back the clock to 2011 when Obama was the president of the United States. Before becoming president, it was revealed that he had Irish ancestry from his mother's side. Obama's great-great-great-grandfather was Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker who lived in Moneygall before emigrating to the United States in the 1800s.
Wanting to connect with his heritage, Obama and Michelle dropped by the small Irish town during a six-day tour of Europe. The presidential couple was met with crowds of excited Irish people, waving their country flags and snapping pictures.
"My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O’bamas," the then-president told a crowd of thousands. "I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way."
One of the more iconic moments was when he enjoyed a pint of Guinness with his distant Irish cousin, Henry Healy, and natives at Ollie Hayes Bar. Fun fact: the pub has a picture of Obama drinking the Guinness as a sign!
"I tried one of these and I realized it tastes so much better here than it does in the states," Obama said after putting away the stout. "What I realized was that you guys, you're keeping all the best stuff here."
Immediately after the then Commander-in-Chief left, the town rushed to immortalize the Obamas' visit. The once-obscure Moneygall soon became known as "Obama's ancestral homeland."
Plans were underway to build the iconic Barack Obama Plaza with a $9 million investment, which "was one of the largest single investments in a decade in Ireland’s Midlands region," according to Atlas Obscura. The tourist site opened in 2014, and the Barack Obama Plaza became the largest employer for the village, the outlet added.
To see more images of the Barack Obama Plaza and Visitor Centre, click here.