Obama ancestry traced to 18th century Dublin

Wed, Aug 6, 2008, 01:00

Genealogists have uncovered fresh evidence of Barack Obama’s Irish ancestry revealing the US presidential hopeful descended from an 18th century Dublin property mogul.

Previous records found Mr Obama’s fourth great-grandfather was a shoemaker in the midlands village of Moneygall whose son Fulmuth Kearney left for the US in 1850.

But researchers at Trinity College Dublin delved further into the Democratic candidate's past to find his sixth great-granduncle was a prominent Dublin businessman in the 1700s.

Wig-maker Michael Kearney brushed shoulders with Ireland’s aristocracy on a daily basis and bought and sold property throughout the city and parts of the country. 

A distant cousin was also discovered - John Kearney - who served as the head of Trinity College and Bishop of the midlands Diocese of Ossory in the early 19th century.

Research director with the Trinity company heritage group Eneclann Fiona Fitzsimons said they were amazed by the discovery.

“I didn’t expect this,” she said. “When we started off we had Joseph Kearney shoemaker, that sounded like a
country shopkeeper. We were surprised to find any link to Dublin at all.

“He (Michael) made his money from periwigs and perukes, but then he invested the profits from that in a lot of property.

“I think we found 16 deeds in the registry of deeds and some of those refer to other deeds which we didn’t find.”

Ms Fitzsimons said they found a significant amount of transactions for Kearney involving the buying and selling of houses and buildings both in Dublin and in counties Tipperary and Offaly. His wig company was located near Dublin Castle.

Kearney became a Freeman of Dublin in 1718, giving him the right to practice his trade, conduct business in the capital and have a vote in elections for the city council.

Within a decade of joining he was elected Master of the Guild of Barber Surgeons. Not afraid of confrontation, when the aristocracy tried to rig Dublin City Council elections in the 1750s to put in their own candidates Kearney was prominent among the Dublin Guildsmen in opposing them.

After the 1780s the fortunes of this line of the Kearney family went into a fairly rapid decline due to a combination of the economic changes brought about after the Act of Union in 1801 and the decline in the fashion of wig wearing.

In May a Church of Ireland rector found Mr Obama’s fourth great-grandfather - Joseph Kearney - was a shoemaker from Moneygall in Co Offaly, whose son Fulmuth emigrated for the US in 1850.

“Apart from the obvious interest of a link to a US presidential candidate, the story of the Kearney family of Moneygall is a fascinating story in itself,” Ms Fitzsimons said.

Mr Obama, a married father of two daughters, was born in Hawaii in 1961, to Kenyan Barack Obama Senior and Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas. He graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and moved to Chicago in 1985 before studying at Harvard Law School.

PA