Barack Obama Plaza. No Kidding.


Barack Obama Plaza sign

Barack Obama Plaza, Co. Offaly, Ireland. No, I couldn’t believe it either.

Spying the billboard on the Dublin-Limerick motorway last Friday, I simply had to investigate.

I was, of course, in Moneygall, Co. Offaly.  Just three years ago, on a blustery day in May, President Barack Obama and the First Lady arrived in the little village of Moneygall to acknowledge the President’s Irish ancestry.

We know him as Obama but, of course, he’s really a Kearney from Co. Offaly. And we Irish will do anything to proclaim the great and powerful as one of our own.

Long, long ago, when I was young, I recall a sign emblazoned on County Galway pub declaring that President Kennedy had visited there. The sign stayed decades after the President had left and indeed, as we say here in Ireland, had gone to his reward.

I had often wondered, then, what kind of people would divert down a road to follow a sign declaring the merest hint of a presence of a former President.

Well, now I was one of them.

Only this time, there wasn’t just a sign…

Barack Obama Plaza

…there was a petrol station complete with vast forecourt, and a variety of takeaways, including the largest Supermacs takeaway in Ireland.

Mr. Supermac himself, had built it. That’s Pat McDonough, a Galway man, who had started out with a chip shop and a dream and now has a chain of takeaways around the country.

And, to underscore the American theme, there this, the quintessential American car.


I wondered what President Obama would make of it all?

One might expect a person of his stature to settle for a finely chiselled sculpting. Or a plaque on his ancestral homestead. Or even Obama Street. But, a petrol forecourt?

Back in 1970s Ireland, John Travolta called out to us through the rain and wind and bog. He wandered around a drive-through theatre all slicked back hair and gleaming teeth of him, crying for his Sandy. We saw all the shiny cars and the almost felt the balminess of that night air which plainly spoke of endless proper summers and teenagers unfettered by parents, nosey biddies down the road, or lack of money. Oh! we wanted to be there.

The closest we got was to the neon lights of Supermac’s takeaway, bashfully-and speechlessly-eyeing our latest crush over curried chips. It was the highlight of our week.

Replete with a choice of takeaways, fuel dispensaries and easy access for the motoring population, Barack Obama Plaza embodies of a lifestyle of great ease, a lifestyle that anyone could aspire to. It is a testament to the American Dream.

Thirty five years later, and I am reliably informed that Obama Plaza has is a destination of choice for the bored  youth of Offaly, Tipperary and Limerick.

Youth will often want to be somewhere other than their present location.  Faraway hills positively glisten with promise and all sorts of elixirs lurk at the end of the rainbow. Obama Plaza fulfils such dreams The sheer spread of concrete and tar, the glisten of shiny reinforced plastic and of metal is the antithesis of bogland Offaly. And it is important that it is.

This is a little piece of America, designed to lure all sorts of gods and goddesses, hopes and dreams. Who knows who might tumble down the motorway, sweep by the Cadillac and order a Mighty Mac? And what possibilities lie beyond the bog and field and boundaries of your childhood?

Maybe, with a little extra detailing, you’ve shined up the chrome on your 1999 Toyota and are out to impress your auburn haired college-going girlfriend? Wouldn’t this be the place to be? You might even manage a little conversation between your steak sandwich and Mighty Milkshake. You might even talk of other shores, better wages, fulfilling bigger dreams. Or you might simply watch the rain trickling down on your windscreen yet again and dream of endless summers in warmer climes. And you may settle, once again, for grass and bog and rain.

President Obama is probably thrilled to have his name to such a place. And isn’t it far better than a homemade roadsign proclaiming that he had passed this way? And isn’t he all about hope and aspiration and, as he proclaimed himself in Moneygall that fateful day “Is féidir linn!” (“Yes, we can!”)

I stood in Obama Plaza though I didn’t bother driving through to order a Mighty Mac or even curried chips. I am more of the nosey biddy now, the observer, watching young people and their shenanigans.

I still have dreams, of course, though they are different now  from those of my youth. I’ve grown to like the bog and the fields and even, sometimes, the rain. I like it enough to feel a judder of disquiet when cast amid a sea of concrete, tar and metal.

But I know that hope is vital. And so is aspiration. And better still, is believing that we can make our dreams a reality.

Like building a seven million euro plaza in the middle of a nowhere.

Or believing that one can lead a whole country.

Or even conjuring up a lover over curried chips.

Yes, we can! Is féidir linn!





26 thoughts on “Barack Obama Plaza. No Kidding.

  1. There’s a Tim Horton’s from Canada and a Spar shop from Japan all in Barack Obama Plaza–a plethora of entertainment to be had! I remember that summer of Grease and being so jealous of those 50s teens with their big cars and rowdy high school. Our school, our cars seemed so tame (although we did all have the big white straightened American teeth).

    Near my in-law’s home in Nagasaki prefecture there’s a rather down-on-its-luck hot-spring town called Obama (which, in Japanese, means either Little Beach or Big Beach, depending on the character for the “o,” in this case it’s “little”). When our Obama was elected, the town reached out to him and invited him for a visit. Sadly, his schedule couldn’t accommodate. I wonder if he had, if they would have built an Obama Obama Plaza.

    • If they did, I am sure they would have the good sense to serve healthy sushi instead of junk food! Thank you for your very interesting comment, Paige. I didn’t know the origins of Hortons. And, of course, your insight into Japanese culture is always intriguing.

      • The Canadians are really good at letting us Americans know what belongs to them. But for some reason, they don’t lay claim to Canadian bacon (a huge oversight, in my opinion).

  2. Is feidir linn squirm at the hijacking of our wonderful food culture…:( No place for healthy eating on the M7! That said I enjoyed the post no end— glad you dropped in to record it!

    • Yes, the downside of the dream is the ease and fast food that go with it. Though I am continually surprised at how wise our young people are when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. I live with three such folk after all and honestly, they put me to shame with their high protein intake and adherence to exercise regimes. Not always, it has to be said, but I think it’s a general trend for a lot of young folk nowadays.

    • You’re kidding! Can’t believe my sense of geography is that poor. Actually was surprised to be hitting into Offaly at all. Thought it would be Tipperary all the way!
      Anyway, you’ve got to go to the Plaza! The perfect Sunday drive destination!

      • How’s the running going anyway? And now that I see you here in comments, I realise that you too must be off my WP reader list. That damned list… I keep having to search for some of my blogroll on the ‘Blogs I follow’ button…

      • Oh that reader bugs me, there are people I follow who never show up on it!
        The running is going pretty well these days, I’m running 5k 3 times a week! And you (apart from the GPS woes)?

      • Delighted to see you’re still running. Must be a challenge in the summer heat there.
        I get out most days clocking in 3-5 mile runs, generally but pushing for longer ones at the weekend. And trying to be a little speedier but without much success!
        If you ever nip back here, try parkrun. It’s all over Dublin now and beyond. Might even be in France too. They’re free timed 5 km runs. Check

      • I had a look at parkrun but it’s not in France yet! Hopefully soon! 🙂
        Yes it can be hard with the the heat, if it’s over 30 I don’t go. If it’s cool in the morning (for example, after a thunderstorm) I make sure to get out and run! 🙂

  3. This is brilliant! I love how you encapsulate the whole Grease vibe that we all craved back in the day and how you’ve linked the whole dream thing with Pat McDonough’s vast 21st century commercial enterprise. One man’s dream is another man’s take-away. Great stuff, loved the post x

    • I’m glad you enjoyed. I honestly started out feeling a tad cynical about the Plaza but thinking it through made me see the attractions of the place from another perspective.

      Yes, Grease made us all feel pretty wistful and miserable though!

  4. What a great post! How refreshing to read about our president from an Irish viewpoint. You’ve noted something rarely considered among the verbal assaults against the man that we daily encounter here in the states: he has a varied ethnic background, none of which makes him any less American than any of the other mutts born in this country. That he reached so high and met that goal – what model for all young folk everywhere. Thank you for this delightful and well written post.
    I had a very brief visit to Ireland when was just out of high school. We bemoaned the fact that most of our travel was only in a bus. We never got anywhere early enough to explore. Ireland from the window was gorgeous. I’d love to go back and walk those beautiful rugged hills and sit in the towns and visit the people.

    • Ah, thank you so much for your insight too. Gotta love blogging for giving us other world views-and presidential ones too, of course. And you are quite right-Obama is a shining example to everyone of what is possible in the face of being told it’s utterly impossible.

      I hope I don’t paint such a glorious picture of Ireland that you’ll all want to come rushing here and end up being disappointed. I often, in my rambles, think of what I’d miss most about the place if I were forced to emigrate, like so many here are. And those are the things that I photograph and write about and savour. Even the things I moan about. Whining ties us to a place too, I think.

      At least when you get back here, you’ll come from a more mature perspective and appreciation. I never hankered green fields when I was a teenager…

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