- Ireland has a highway service station dedicated former US President Barack Obama.
- The site is a nice place to rest on your journey and grab food and gas, but it’s also a bizarre themed site that has branded mugs, Obama’s name on trash cans, and a whole floor as a free museum.
- Located on Ireland’s M7 highway, Barack Obama Plaza opened in 2014 in tribute to Obama’s 2011 visit to the birthplace of his great-great-great-grandfather.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Since 2014, one of Ireland’s main highways has had a bizarre service station dedicated to former US President Barack Obama.
The justification for its existence is that Obama visited Moneygall, a nearby village, back in 2011 after learning that his great-great-great-grandfather was from there.
But that doesn’t make the Barack Obama Plaza any less strange.
I am Irish and have been many times. Like every other Irish person I’ve spoken to about it, I have something of a love-hate relationship with the site. It’s a very nice rest stop on a boring highway that has a widely stocked store, nice places to eat, friendly staff, and comfortable seats.
But there’s something deeply embarrassing about it, and I really hope that tourists, particularly American tourists, don’t take it too seriously – and don’t think that we do either.
The branding, artwork, and statues – as well as the museum that has things like Obama badges, a Guinness glass Obama may or may not have drunk out of, and histories of other American presidents that had Irish heritage – all make for a truly confusing rest stop experience.
This is what it’s like to visit:
Along Ireland’s M7 highway, which connects the cities of Limerick and Dublin, there’s a strange place — a service station dedicated to former US President Barack Obama.
The Barack Obama Plaza, as it’s called, is a gas station with multiple food outlets, a shop, and, bizarrely, a museum dedicated to Obama and the US-Ireland connection.
It’s a heavily branded wonder that equal parts loved by Irish people as a pleasant and useful place to stop and a source of national embarrassment that this place exists.
Obama Plaza was built and named after Obama visited the nearby town of Moneygall in 2011 during his trip to Ireland. A genealogist had learned that Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, was from the town and had emigrated to the US in the 1800s.
Obama visited a pub in the town, where he and his wife, Michelle, famously had pints of Guinness and he said: “I feel even more at home after that pint that I had.”
This is the outside of the pub today — with Obama’s face now displayed proudly on its sign.
You start to see signs for the Barack Obama Plaza as you drive along the highway.
As well as signs for Moneygall, which present it as a tourist site and describe it as “President Obama’s Ancestral Village” rather than an actual place that people live.
Drive a bit farther and you see it: Obama’s name lit up, the gas station, the restaurants.
Walk in, and one of the first things you see is a life-size cutout of Barack and Michelle. I steeled myself to take a photo for this article, and then had to burst out laughing when an employee adjusting Christmas decorations made an (inaccurate) joke about me being American. I didn’t correct him, because it was much less embarrassing than saying I was an Irish journalist.
You’re also hit by screens for the upstairs visitor centre.
As well as the meeting room you can book. This seems like a very sensible addition, as it means people can hold meetings at roughly a middle point between many of Ireland’s major cities.
But first I wanted to explore the downstairs more. There’s a host of restaurants, including Irish burger chain Supermac’s and a Papa John’s pizza (and, when I was there, Christmas decorations).
I’ve spoken enthusiastically of Supermac’s, the small Irish chain that won a major naming rights victory over McDonald’s.
But just when the place starts to feel normal, the Obama branding rears its head again in places like the carpet.
I ordered a tea and it came in normal cup, but then they stuck an Obama sticker on top.
The branding makes its way to the most bizarre places. I’m sure the former president is honoured to have his name on this trash can.
There’s something bizarre about seeing Obama’s name plastered on regular old service-station signs. They were advertising an upcoming “Christmas Wonderland” when I was there. Sadly I had to return to Business Insider’s UK office before it kicked off.
It was nice to see that the plaza even sponsors a local sports team.
The strangest thing about the place is that it is used by regular people who want to grab a quick coffee or bite to eat during their commute. Very few people, and certainly almost no locals, would come here because of any connection to Obama.
The dining area is largely devoid of any reference to US presidents.
It’s easy to go to the shop and view it as a regular store filled with regular Irish products.
Until you take a closer look at some of what’s on sale.
There’s also a whole host of Obama Plaza merch for sale in the café — as well as a mug that was the only reference to President Donald Trump that I noticed.
The place itself is certainly aware of its political connections — as well as how Obama is vastly more popular in Ireland than Trump. Just before the 2016 election result, it jokingly asked its Facebook followers what it should do about changing its name.
But it wouldn’t make sense to rename the place unless it was after another president with a connection to Ireland. That is, after all, the point of its (free) museum upstairs.
Before you go up, you can play with a claw machine, or get yourself a souvenir coin featuring Obama’s — or John F. Kennedy’s — face.
The museum is an odd place. It’s home to *another* bronze statue of Obama.
And a “Hollywood star” for him on the floor.
The museum has some items that clearly came from government officials.
And other stuff that might be out of circulation now but are just preserved everyday objects.
It has dedicated areas for former US presidents who had Irish ancestors, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Kennedy.
It turns out that the list of US presidents with Irish ancestry is long and spans from the seventh US president, Andrew Jackson, all the way to Obama. It includes the likes of George W. Bush (who the display says is actually related to “two of the most notorious villains in Irish history.”)
But it’s not just the US — the museum highlights the Irish people who went all over the globe and their now famous ancestors, from revolutionary Che Guevara to Henry Ford.
Ireland has a unique global position as waves of emigration, including during the famine in the 1800s, mean that the Irish diaspora is now made up of around 80 million people, while the country’s population is under five million.