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Thursday 23 November 2017

Eimear Ni Bhraonain: Monegall’s historic journey with Barack Obama

WHEN I visited Moneygall on March 18 this year, I had already been bitten by the Barack bug.

‘Henry The Eighth’ – as he is now known by his famous cousin, US President Barack Obama – met me in the tiny Co Offaly village.

I was carrying an Irish Independent and the front page read: “Yes, I can visit”.

It’s been a long journey for Henry who has been championing this story since I first came across him in 2007.

Thanks to the power of social networking site Facebook and several interviews later, I’ve gotten to know him.

A smile spread across Henry’s face in Moneygall that morning as he read the headline. It was the confirmation he needed, the US President Barack Obama would be visiting his village.

In 2007, Barack Obama was a barely known senator on this side of the Atlantic.

I was working in Tipperary when I first heard about this story.

My initial thoughts opening the press release from US family history firm Ancestry.com, that a barely known African-American senator had Irish roots, were ‘pull the other one, there’s an election looming’.

But over the years, the story gained momentum. I liked the idea, which Henry had convinced me of, that Barack Obama was an underdog in the US election race and so was Moneygall in Ireland.

And from a factual point-of-view I had seen first-hand the ancestral records found by Church of Ireland rector Canon Stephen Neill which clearly show the link to Fulmouth Kearney.

After studying the family tree and reading material published by genealogists here and abroad, I realised that the idea of Barack Obama being Irish might not be so far-fetched after all. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father, the late Barack Hussein Obama Snr and American mother, a white woman by the name of Stanley Ann Dunham.

Everyone is aware of Obama’s Kenyan links but we are still learning today about his mother’s Irish ancestry.

Mr Obama’s great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side was Fulmouth Kearney, who lived in Moneygall until he emigrated to America in 1850 aged 19.

There are headstones in a cemetery in Ohio, USA, that give us the proof we need that the Kearneys related to Barack Obama were born in Moneygall in Kings County (now County Offaly). So it is written in stone, Barack Obama has Irish in his blood.

As soon as Mr Obama told the world he would be visiting the Irish village where his ancestors hailed from, I knew I had to move there.

As soon as I found out there was a flat available to rent in Millenium House on Main Street with two windows offering a perfect view of the village, I packed up and belongings and moved to Moneygall.

I decided not to go through the official accreditation process that journalists usually adhere to during state visits. I didn’t want to write the story with a pack of reporters watching from afar. I wanted to live the story and become a villager so I could paint a true picture of what it is like to be part of the community that managed to get the attention of the most powerful man in the world on May 23, 2011.

When he came to Moneygall on that day, Barack Obama met everyone in the village. In fact, he noticed himself that he shook one man’s hand three times as he worked the crowds for so long.

The visit of Barack Obama to Ireland presented our country with a rare opportunity in a time of recession. For months, we were bombarded with images of Ireland as the beggar man of Europe. Thanks to the people of Moneygall, television footage, photographs and broadcasts from our country were beamed around the globe showing us in our best light.

Moneygall’s ‘is féidir linn’ attitude shows just how much one small community can do when people work together.

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