New Research Takes Barack Obama’s Irish Family–The Kearneys–Back To The Late 17th Century

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Recently, Eneclann made the following announcement. Eneclann has been a partner since the beginning of 2008. Eneclann databases available on are the 1851 Dublin City Census and the Index to Irish Wills (1484-1858).

New Research Takes Barack Obama’s Irish Family–The Kearneys–Back To The Late 17th Century
Finds a family of wig-makers with an early involvement in local city politics

6 August 2008– Up to now, what was in the public domain, brought us back to Falmouth Kearney, Obama’s second great-grandfather, from Moneygall Co. Offally. Through extensive research genealogists at Eneclann ( have taken the Kearney family tree back to Obama’s sixth great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney born ca. 1698.

The Kearneys were skilled artisans, who prospered in the Eighteenth Century. One branch of the family did extremely well; Michael Kearney, (Obama’s sixth great-granduncle), a peruke (wig)-maker, 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. As the Nineteenth Century progresses the family line from which Obama descends fails to prosper and they emigrate to the US.

The Kearney family, were probably Gaelic Irish in origin, based on the family name, and the research has also discovered that the probable place of origin is Co. Tipperary.

Our starting point was the records at where we found Falmouth’s mother, Phoebe Kearney, in Griffith’s Valuation. 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 known sons: Thomas born 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]; 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.

Early Political Involvement
Within the extended Kearney family, research revealed 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 Freemens Rolls in 1718.

As a Freeman of Dublin City, he had the right to practice his trade and conduct business in Dublin City, and he had a vote in elections for the city council. 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.

Research located a political pamphlet against Michael Kearney printed in 1726 called Hue and Cry. This pamphlet is written in fairly typical Eighteenth Century political invective, it is scurrilous, scabrous and slanderous, great fun to read but to be taken with a large pinch of salt. The following is an extract:

‘His head is still running
on tricking and cunning
But he mayn’t escape let me tell you
For the Fox has been caught
And pay’d dear at last
For the Geese he had put in his Belly’

Hue And Cry, After M-K, late Master to a Corporation in the City of Dublin.
By the Author of Namby Pamby.
( A copy of this pamphlet can be found at

In the 1750s, when the aristocracy tried to gerrymander elections to Dublin City Council to put in their own candidates, Michael Kearney was prominent among the Dublin Guildsmen in opposing them.

The Kearneys of Shinrone and 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 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. 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, and it seems the family sold/ released their rights these properties in order to finance the family’s emigration to the United States.

Commenting on the research into Obama’s Irish links Fiona Fitzsimons, Director of Research at Eneclann Ltd. says ‘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. The Kearney family history, illustrates over five generations, a family history that was not untypical in Ireland, but which we don’t often consider as a typical Irish emigrant story. However, we were taken by complete surprise to discover an early connection local politics and a distant cousin who becomes Provost of Trinity College Dublin and Bishop of Ossory.’

For further information:

Brian Donovan : +353 086 6486262 or
Cathy McCartney : +353 1 671 0338
(email) –,

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