A tiny Irish village of 300 people which has no bank, cash machine or petrol station, though in the best Irish tradition it boasts of two pubs, was on Monday put on the world map as U.S. President Barack Obama dropped by to check out the birthplace of his ancestors as he embarked on a week-long European tour that includes a three-day visit to Britain starting Tuesday.
It was in Moneygall, in deep Irish countryside 140 kilometres south-west of Dublin, that Mr. Obama's great-great-great-maternal grandfather Falmouth Kearney was born and lived until the family migrated to New York in 1850 at the height of Irish potato famine. He visited the old Kearney family home — specially painted for the occasion, like many buildings in the village, with the stars-and-stripes of the American flag.
“It is unbelievable, nothing short of a miracle”, was a typically breathless reaction as the villagers in their “Sunday best” turned out in full strength — down to the 300th person, the media claimed — to welcome the world's most powerful political figure.
There were extraordinary scenes as Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle, disregarding security, mingled with the local people while they were given a guided tour of the village. They kissed babies, gave autographs and posed for pictures while their jittery minders nervously bit their nails.
The high-point of the brief visit, lasting about 30 minutes, was a visit to the village pub where the Obamas had a pint each of Guinness beer. Ollie Hayes, owner of the pub, boasted that he has just pulled the “most important pint I will ever pour”.
Earlier, in Dublin, Mr. Obama held talks with Irish President Mary McAleese, and Prime Minister Enda Kenny, becoming the sixth American President, starting with J.F. Kennedy in 1963, to visit Ireland.
On Tuesday, the Obamas will fly into London for a three-day state visit during which they will stay at Buckingham Palace.
Afghanistan, Libya and the situation in West Asia are among the issues likely to dominate Mr. Obama's talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.