Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Barack Obama in the White House, March 17th, 2011 (Reuters photo)
Enda Kenny, the new Taoiseach* of the Republic of Ireland, visited the White House today, which was not a big surprise since it was St. Patrick's Day. What was a little bit of a surprise was the announcement that President Obama would visit Ireland in May, just before going on to visit that bigger island to its east.
While details of the visit have yet to be filled out, one place that the President made sure to mention that he will definitely visit is the tiny town of Moneygall in County Offaly, since one of his great-great-great grandfathers was a cobbler there before emigrating to the US during the Great Hunger in the 1850s.
We beat him to it.
Last August, we made a point of visiting Moneygall, since Obama's connection to the place has been pretty common knowledge since the 2008 election. It didn't take much effort, since Moneygall is in the same county as our home base in Birr and since it's right on the N7 which was, until the end of last year, the main road across the island from Dublin to Limerick. (The N7 has since been supplanted by the new M7 superhighway, which bypasses Moneygall entirely, but that stretch wasn't quite done last August.)
We expected to see plenty of references to Obama in Moneygall, given the special relationship most Irish feel with the United States. JFK is still greatly revered by many, as is Reagan to a slightly lesser extent.
The N7 (now the R445, downgraded from a National to a Regional designation after the completion of the M7 superhighway) is Moneygall's main -- and just about only -- street.
We saw none. No signs, banners, pictures... nothing. In retrospect, we probably shouldn't have expected any. Kennedy and Reagan are remembered there not simply because they were American presidents of Irish lineage -- there have been plenty of those -- but because they came to Ireland and showed respect for the connection by showing regard for the Irish people.
So, I reckon, there will be signs and banners, photographs and window shrines for Obama if we were to go back next August.
*"Taoiseach," pronounced TEE-sock (approximately) is the title of Ireland's prime minister, the head of government. The word means leader or chieftain.