How the US president’s roots were traced to Offaly

BEING the first black president of the United States and of Kenyan origin, perhaps the most unexpected connection was that a man with such an exotic name, in the most powerful job in the world, would have links to a small village in Co Offaly.

However, the Irish are nothing if not an industrious people, so once Barack Obama reached the White House, it was inevitable his tenuous, but nonetheless legitimate, Irish ancestry would be unearthed.

Through the lineage of Mr Obama’s mother Ann Dunham, the president’s family history can be traced back to 18th-century Ireland and more specifically to the Kearney family in Moneygall in Co Offaly.

While one part of the Kearney clan moved to Dublin and entered the wig trade, the Offaly contingent had done well enough to secure property rights in Moneygall and nearby Shinrone around 1800.

John Kearney was the most notable of the clan in this period and served as provost of Trinity College and later as Bishop of Ossory.

In Moneygall, Obama’s fifth great-grandfather William Kearney and his son Joseph Kearney worked as shoemakers. The latter married Phoebe Donovan around 1825 and it is believed the couple had at least four children.

While much of the country was in the throes of the Famine in the 1840s, Joseph Kearney and his family were offered an escape route. His brother Francis had emigrated to the USA and left land to his younger brother in his will, on the condition that he move to the US.

It is believed the Kearneys did not make the journey together and that Joseph sold his property rights in Offaly and sailed in 1849. In 1850 he sent for his oldest son Fulmuth, who was about 20, his daughter Margaret and her husband. Joseph’s wife Phoebe and the remaining children William and Mary followed in 1851.

Two years later Fulmuth married Charlotte Hathaway and went on to settle in Deerfield, Ohio and have several children.

The couple’s youngest daughter, Mary Ann, moved from Indiana to Kansas after her father’s death in 1878. Mary Ann Kearney is the paternal grandmother of Stanley Dunham, Mr Obama’s maternal grandfather.

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