Monday 19 March 2018

My cousin Barack

Henry Healy is 26 and has lived in Moneygall all his life. He's also Mr Obama's eighth cousin, and he's so excited at meeting his famous relative he can barely sleep

I CAN hardly believe that I am an Irish cousin of the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States of America.

What's more, it still feels like a dream when I think that Barack Obama -- the 44th president of the USA -- is coming to my home village.

When I first heard Moneygall mentioned in a news broadcast in 2007 on then Senator Barack Obama's Irish links, I became curious about my family tree.

Moneygall is a small place, after all. And what if I turned out to be related to his ancestors, the Kearneys?

I was in my living room at home watching the 'Nine O'Clock News' on RTE on May 2, 2007.

I heard Bethan Kilfoil mentioning how then Senator Barack Obama had a relation by the name of Falmouth Kearney -- who grew up in Moneygall.

My mother, Marian, said to me 'I wonder if he has anything to do with the Kearneys who your father's related to?'

She then told me that our family owned land that was always known as 'Kearneys' Garden'. This land was bought by Offaly County Council by compulsory purchase order.

My mother phoned my uncle, John Healy, to find out if he remembered any connection to the Kearneys.

John was contacted by an American, Roger Kearney in Ohio, some years previously, who was tracing his Irish ancestry. This made his job much easier because he had already established a family connection to the Kearneys.

Simultaneously, Canon Stephen Neill, the local Church of Ireland rector, was in touch with American genealogists who were tracing Obama's Irish roots.

Megan Smolenyak -- a researcher with -- phoned Stephen and asked him if parish records were in existence for Moneygall, as she had discovered that Obama's ancestors were originally from the area.

Stephen could hardly believe his luck when he found that not only were the parish records from as far back as 1799 available -- but they were in excellent condition. A former parish treasurer, who sadly died only a few weeks after the initial inquiry into Barack Obama's roots, had kept them safe all that time.

Stephen's records were from Templeharry Church, a beautiful Church of Ireland building located around three miles from Moneygall.

The researcher Megan Smolenyak's original enquiry was about a Joseph and Phoebe Kearney and their son Fulmouth, or Falmouth, Kearney.

Falmouth Kearney was Barack Obama's third great-grandfather (six generations) -- who emigrated to the US in 1850 aboard the SS Marmion. We believe he left Ireland in search of wealth as his family, who were Church of Ireland, had failed to prosper around the time of the Famine. In earlier generations his family had been very successful wig-makers, but records showing the family's occupation prove their wealth had been declining.

A marriage licence was uncovered in the US relating to Joseph and Phoebe Kearney. It showed they married in the diocese of Killaloe. Eventually, through the process of elimination, the research pointed to our parish records. Stephen searched through the records, and found details of when Joseph and Phoebe Kearney's children -- or Falmouth's siblings -- William and Mary-Anne were baptised. These entries also shed light on the occupation of Falmouth's father -- a shoemaker from Moneygall.

The details Stephen found in the parish register of births, marriages and deaths, matched the US census and other records and meant we were certain Falmouth came from my parish.

Although Stephen couldn't find Falmouth's name in the records, it is possible that he is recorded under a different name. It was common to give children a pet name different from their Christian name.

Sadly, there are no Kearneys left in Moneygall today, but they are not forgotten.

Through my uncle, John, I discovered that the Healys were twice intermarried with the Kearneys in the mid-1700s.

Barack Obama's seventh great-grandparents, Joseph and Cicely Kearney, had four sons. One of the sons, Joseph, who was born in 1730, married Sarah Healy and they had nine children.

Parish records from Shinrone, Co Offaly, also prove that my distant relation Sarah Healy married into the Kearneys. Many of Sarah and Joseph's children died in infancy. However, their third son, John, who was born in 1782, lived to 82, which was almost unheard of during that time. They also had a son, Thomas, who was the first of the Kearneys to emigrate to the US.

Through my uncle's research, we discovered that Sarah Healy had a brother -- or father -- by the name of William Healy. William Healy took out a lease on Rathmoyle House in Moneygall.

Rathmoyle House remains in family ownership since the 1750s, and it is where John Healy lives to this day.

Sarah Healy is my sixth great-grandaunt and also President Barack Obama's sixth great-grandmother. When you follow the ancestral line in my family from Sarah Healy to my late father, Har Healy, it becomes clear that Barack Obama is my distant cousin.

Moneygall has changed so much since we found out that Barack Obama's ancestors on his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham's side, came from my parish.

Before we were thrown into the spotlight, Moneygall was still special to me because it is my home of 26 years.

I live on Moneygall's Main Street. I've seen other family members leave the village -- and some emigrating just as Barack Obama's ancestors, the Kearneys did -- but I wouldn't settle anywhere else.

Before the story broke in May 2007 that an ambitious American senator had connections to an Offaly village, most Irish people would have only looked on Moneygall as a "pass-through" village.

Moneygall and the world

Most people think it is a typical Irish village, that you blink and you are gone past. For many, it was just somewhere dotted on the map on a long drive along the N7 from Dublin to Limerick before the motorway was built.

Today, Moneygall's profile couldn't be more different. We only have a population of 350, but we are known throughout the world because of our links to Barack Obama.

Visitors are arriving every day now to see the sites of where the Kearneys lived, where they were educated and where they worshipped at Templeharry Church.

The visit of Barack Obama will be uplifting for the people of Moneygall.

While our economic crisis and unemployment has dominated our television screens and newspapers, we in Moneygall have been given a reprieve from negativity with our own exciting story of change, hope and a new 'Is feidir linn' attitude.

I can barely sleep thinking about the arrival of Barack Obama and rehearsing what am I going to say to him. My uncle, John, will be by my side because I promised him that if we ever got to meet our long-lost relation, we would do it together.

I want to welcome him home to Moneygall and to tell him that his success has inspired our nation. It has transformed one Irish community, but lifted the hearts of many more.

I will tell him how proud we Healys are to be related to Barack Obama. He has come a very long way from a time when his great-great-great-great grandfather John Kearney was a shoemaker in Moneygall.

Irish Independent Supplement

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