Next month, Barack Obama will visit an Irish village where his great-great-great-great grandfather made shoes. He is thought to be the 22nd US president to have or claim Irish family, and most recent presidents have visited the Republic or Northern Ireland. Why?

A small village of fewer than 300 residents in County Offaly is about to welcome its most famous son.

Moneygall is gearing up for Obamamania on 23 or 24 May, when the president returns to the spot where in 1850 his ancestor Falmouth Kearney, son of shoemaker Joseph, packed his bags and headed off to the US.

Mr Obama’s Irish connection, on his mother Ann Dunham’s side, was unearthed in 2007 and the president announced the visit on St Patrick’s Day this year.

Ever since President John F Kennedy was mobbed by crowds in Dunganstown, County Wexford, in 1963, nearly every president has beaten the same path across the Atlantic, often in an effort to seek out the ancestral home.

Ireland is the only country, apart perhaps from neighbours Mexico and Canada, so favoured. So how did it become such a magnet for leaders from the world’s most powerful country?

“It’s very simple, Catholic votes,” says John Robert Greene, historian and author of dozens of books about US presidents.


“There’s not a huge love of Irish tradition, with the possible exception of JFK and Ronald Reagan, not a huge love of Irish culture, with the possible exception of JFK, Reagan and Bill Clinton, but there’s a huge love for Catholic votes and particularly Irish Catholic votes.

“That’s why there is a pilgrimage every four years and that’s why Obama is going.”

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