Located at a highway junction along the R445 motorway, the Barack Obama Plaza appears, at first glance, as nothing more than a gas station. The outside has gas pumps, and the inside looks like it might house a few snack kiosks and a restroom. But oh how deceiving looks can be.
The entirety of this plaza is a tribute to the first U.S. president to ever have roots in Moneygall. And while rest stops are rarely destinations in and of themselves, the modest Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall, Ireland has become a very popular port of call for the many organized tours traversing the country, which now include a stop in what is described as “Obama’s ancestral homeland.”
Most people don’t know that President Obama has Irish blood on his mother’s side — his Kenyan heritage gets far more attention. But in 1850, a 19-year-old shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney set out on one of the so-called coffin ships that left Ireland and its Potato Famine for the promising new world. Kearney was from Moneygall. This little-known fact about Obama’s maternal relative came to light when he was running for president in 2007, immediately creating a sensation in Ireland.
On his first and only official visit to Ireland in 2011, the president said, “My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O’bamas…I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.” On a 90-minute visit to the village, he visited the remnants of his ancestor’s home and drank a pint of Guinness.
But the real fun for Moneygall started after the Commander-in-Chief left. Immediate plans were set to immortalize the political celebrity’s connection to this largely forgotten locale. The $9 million Barack Obama Plaza project was one of the largest single investments in a decade in Ireland’s Midlands region.
Inside, tourists can purchase everything from mugs, magnets and cigarette lighters to T-shirts proclaiming “Is Feidir Linn” (Gaelic for ‘Yes We Can’) and “What’s the Craic, Barack?” (What’s Up, Barack?).
Before Obama visited Moneygall on May 23, 2011, the small village in County Offaly was nothing more than a quaint highway village in the center of Ireland. Just 310 people called it home. Nowadays, the village draws at least a dozen tour buses daily, plus other tourists who deliberately choose to fuel up there.
The entire plaza is covered with Obama marketing–everything from the frosted emblems on the windows to the trash cans boasts an Obama seal, lest you forget why you’re there.