Origins Network Genealogy News: Barack Obama's Irish Family
- Origins Network Genealogy News:
Barack Obama's Irish Family - The Kearneys
Barack Obama's Irish links to the Kearney family from Moneygall Co.
Offaly came to light last year. Apart from the obvious interest of a
link to a US presidential candidate, the story of the Kearney family
of Moneygal ls fascinating in itself.
Our starting point was the records at www.irishorigins.com where we
found Falmouth's mother, Phoebe Kearney in Griffith's Valuation. See
The Kearney family history, as researched by Eneclann, is
interesting, because it illustrates over five generations a family
history that was not untypical in Ireland, but which we don't often
consider as a typical emigrant story.
o The Kearney family were probably Gaelic Irish in origin,
based on the family name, and the probable place of origin is
o They were Church of Ireland.
o They were skilled artisans, who prosper in the 18th Century.
One branch of the family do extremely well; Michael Kearney, (Obama's
6th great-granduncle) becomes embroiled in the Dublin city politics
of the day and John Kearney, who would be a distant cousin of
Obama's, went on to become the Provost of Trinity College Dublin and
later Bishop of Ossory.
o As the 19th Century progresses, the family line from which
Obama descends fails to prosper and they emigrate to the US.
View Griffith's Valuation 1847-1864 record for Phoebe Carney (=
Widow of Joseph Kearney of Moneygall, Obama's direct 3rd great-
The Kearney Family Tree
Up to now, what was in the public domain brought us back to Falmouth
Kearney, Obama's 2nd great-grandfather. Through extensive research,
Eneclann has taken the Kearney family tree back to Obama's 6th great-
grandfather, Joseph Kearney born ca. 1698. We also traced close
kinship probably a brother with the family of Michael Kearney,
peruke maker, in Dublin.
The Kearneys were involved in the trade of peruke or periwig making.
People wore wigs because they didn't wash their hair water was
thought to spread disease. Wigs were not just a luxury item, they
were worn by professionals, the gentry and the aristocracy, but also
by many of the staff in big houses.
If we look at the Kearney family that settled in Shinrone, Co. Offaly
from the 1740s onwards Obama's direct line - Joseph Kearney, from
whom Obama is directly descended, was born ca. 1698 and had four
Thomas b. ca. 1725; Joseph born ca. 1730 [this is Obama's direct
line]; John born ca. 1735; and Patrick bap. 9 Oct. 1741.
Of these sons, Thomas followed in the profitable line of business
established by the senior branch of the family, and he became a
peruke-maker [from the 1768 Lease];
Joseph became a comber i.e. textiles/ weaving [1761 Marriage License
Bond, Diocese of Killaloe];
Follow this link to see the Kearney family tree on Eneclann Kearney
An Early Involvement in Politics
We also found within the extended Kearney family an early involvement
in politics. Michael Kearney kinsman, (probably older brother) of
Joseph Kearney, entered the Guild of Barber Surgeons & Periwigmakers
in 1717, and was entered as a `Capillamentarius', i.e. a hair dresser
in the Freemen Rolls in 1718.
As a Freeman of Dublin City, he had the right to practise his trade
and conduct business in Dublin City, and he had a vote in elections
for the city council. What follows was taken from the Minute Book for
1706-57 of the Guild of Barber Surgeons & Periwig Makers, held in
Trinity College Library, Manuscripts Dept. Ms. 1447/8/1.
Michael Kearney was very active within the politics of his trade
guild. In 1720, within three years of joining, he was elected house
warden. In 1724, he was openly critical of the master and warden of
his guild, and led a petition against them. Although he was suspended
at that time, clearly he had the support of his fellow guild members
and within two years, in 1726, Michael Kearney was elected master of
the Guild of Barber Surgeons. We actually found the number of votes
for each candidate and he won the election hands down: the voting
was Michael Kearney 44 votes; Mr. Cauliff 5 votes; Mr. Wetherall 2
The Guild Minute Books also alerted us to a pamphlet written against
Michael Kearney in 1726, shortly after his election,. We found a copy
of this pamphlet in Early Printed Books in the Trinity College
Library. The 1726 pamphlet "Hue and Cry" is written in fairly typical
18th century political invective. It is scurrilous, scabrous and
slanderous, great fun to read but to be taken with a large pinch of
To see a copy of this pamphlet on Eneclann follow this link Political
In the 1750s, when the aristocracy tried to gerrymander (or
manipulate) elections to Dublin City Council to put in their own
candidates, Michael Kearney was prominent among the Dublin Guildsmen
[the business leaders of their day] in opposing them.
Michael Kearney remained prominent in the Guild of Barber Surgeons
until his death in 1762.
The Kearneys of Shinrone & Moneygall
Barack Obama is directly descended from the Kearneys of Shinrone &
Moneygall Co. Offaly. The height of this family's prosperity was
between the 1760s and 1780s, when the nephews from Offaly stepped
into their Dublin uncle's business of wig-making. After the 1780s,
the fortunes of this line of the Kearney family went into fairly
What might have caused this decline?
o Changes in fashion: by the early 19th Century, the fashion
was to wear more natural styles, and the style was to decorate and
dress their own hair rather than wearing an ornamental wig. Wigs were
reserved for the legal profession.
o The Act of Union 1801 created the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland, and abolished the Irish parliament, so that MPs
elected in Ireland now sat in Westminster. The political
establishment moved out of Dublin to London, and as they did so, they
kept town houses in London during the sitting of Parliament. The
market for wigs would have been predominantly among this elite, who
suddenly vanished from Dublin.
o The very success of the Dublin Kearneys - Michael Kearney (d.
1762) - invested his profits in property in Tipperary / Offaly, and
in the expanding city of Dublin. His investments did very well, and
provided good dowries for his daughters and a university education
for his sons, who were trained for the higher professions. John
Kearney (son of Michael Kearney, bap. 1741 St Andrews CoI, Dublin)
was provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1798 to 1806 when he
became Bishop of Ossory.
In the next generation, the Dublin Kearney's were not involved in
business. So over a generation, the extended Kearney family stopped
acting as the `Kearney corporation'. As one generation succeeded the
previous one, the passage of time undermined that strong family
loyalty, and the valuable business connection between the Shinrone /
Moneygall Kearneys and the Dublin Kearneys.
Tracing the history of the Moneygall / Shinrone Kearneys, in the
following generations William (1762-1828) and his son Joseph (ca.
1794-1861) both became shoe-makers, and there's no evidence to
suggest that they continued to transport their goods to Dublin for
sale. In other words they were shoe-makers for a rural district,
where the nearest market town was Roscrea. They did however retain
some property rights in Moneygall and Shinrone, as a direct
consequence of the family's prosperity in an earlier generation. In
fact Joseph Kearney only appears to have sold/released his rights to
property in Moneygall, in 1851 [LEC sale document, `In the matter of
the Estate of the Rev. William Minchin', 27 Nov. 1851], and it's
probable that he did so to finance the family's emigration to the
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