Hours away from the first titular attraction of today’s agenda, I visited an unbelievable place. Pitt Plus3 Ireland arrived at Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. A living memorial to the 44th President of the United States, the first floor features exhibitions on not only Obama but also a variety of Presidents of Irish heritage. A map takes things further, showcasing how the Irish diaspora has produced superstars across the globe, like Che Guevara (the revolutionary has a 1700s-era Galway relation). Furthermore, an elegant meeting room, located behind a gargantuan bust of Obama, allows for all sorts of gatherings at this remarkably convenient location. On floor G, the plaza also hosts fast food restaurants, a convenience store, and all of the trappings of a roadside gas station. It is an absurd place, but it has essentially become the town center of Moneygall, where Obama’s grandfather’s grandfather once lived (and left).
Tourism makes Ireland stronger, not only economically, but also socially. After Obama’s 2011 visit to the country of Ireland, his ancestral hometown seized this opportunity with tremendous vigor. The $9 million spent on the plaza was more than nearly any other project in the middle part of the country ever. Episodes like this make it clear that an apology that goes, “sorry, I’m American,” is wholly counterproductive. If the country of 5 million devolves into a cheerleader for the 40 million Irish Americans, the 70 million members of the Irish diaspora total, or anyone who has ever set eyes on the Emerald Isle from afar, then that is OK. Americanness is hard to avoid, nearly as much as ex-colonizing Britain. At various bars I have been to, the song selection from either recordings or cover bands skews heavily towards a small subset of 70s rock. We have often been advised to steer clear of explicitly Irish-themed spots, which have been derided by locals like our private bus tour guide as tourist traps. It is still all a craicing good time for me, though.
To touch briefly on those Cliffs of Moher, the safety precautions are obviously the result of vast quantities (1.5+ million folks a year) of tourists descending onto the natural landmark. Consider a warning that features Irish, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German messages. An Irishman or Irishwoman would either navigate the Cliffs with ease or be mocked for slipping down to their rocky graves. This tourism, however, in addition to walls of rock, has also helped the country preserve this beautiful coastal area and the associated ecosystem. It is almost as beautiful as a machine that dispenses collectable medals of both Barack O’bama and John F. Kennedy.