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Moneygall, Ireland, Boasts Cottage Industry as Obama's Ancestral Home

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Image: President Obama visits Ireland in 2011
President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle enjoy a pint of Guinness in Hayes Bar in Moneygall, Ireland, on May 23, 2011.Pool via EPA file

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MONEYGALL, Ireland — Barack Obama’s approval ratings have plunged to George W. Bush levels of unpopularity, with half of Americans saying they don’t like the job he’s doing.

But if that news has the president feeling low, he can always take heart that at least one place in the world will always be glad to welcome him home.

That would be this tiny County Offaly village in central Ireland that’s built a cottage industry around its unlikely status as the ancestral home — well, an ancestral home — of the 44th president.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, an Irish-American genealogist found that then-Sen. Obama had a great-great-great-grandfather named Falmouth Kearney, a Moneygall resident who left for the U.S. at 19.

Although its population of roughly 320 people is smaller than the typical entourage of an American president on a foreign state visit, Moneygall has wholeheartedly embraced its most famous great-great-great-grandson.

If there are places in the world that don’t like American tourists, Moneygall is not one of them. American flags and Irish tricolors line the village’s main street, which is crammed with as much Obamiana as the place can take.

There’s the Obama Cafe and Gift Shop, which sells T-shirts reading “Is Feidir Linn” (Gaelic for “Yes We Can”), hurling sticks with the president’s face and reproductions of Shepard Fairey’s famous Obama portrait superimposed over pictures of Moneygall.

The $9 million project was one of the largest single investments in a decade in Ireland’s Midlands region, and with 70-odd jobs, it’s is the largest employer for miles. On July 4, the plaza opened the President Barack Obama Visitor Centre, a mini-museum dedicated to Obama’s Irish links and Irish-American history.

Moneygall’s celebration of Obama is an extreme version of Ireland’s efforts to reach out to the vast global population of people of Irish heritage — a group that surpasses Ireland’s population of 4.6 million many times over thanks to the island nation’s outpouring of immigrants.

The global financial crisis of 2008 brought an end to an unprecedented streak of economic prosperity in Irish history. Encouraging diaspora tourism is one of the government’s economic stimulus programs.

“The Gathering,” a yearlong initiative aimed at encouraging tourists of Irish heritage to visit the country, brought an estimated $216 million to the economy last year.

For his part, Obama has gamely reciprocated the Celtic love. At a speech in Dublin on his 2011 visit, he introduced himself as “Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O’Bamas.”

Publican Ollie Hayes and Henry Healy, a distant cousin of the president’s, were guests at the White House’s 2012 St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

“At the time, it was mayhem,” said Ollie’s wife Majella Hayes from behind the taps at the bar. “But we lived history, didn’t we? We lived history.”

This story originally appeared at GlobalPost.

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