Sunday, May 30, 2010

There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

BIOGRAPHY: Barak Obama: the Road from Moneygall, by Stephen McDonogh, Brandon, 300pp. €16.99


Source: The Irish Times - Saturday, May 29, 2010

AT HIS FIRST St Patrick’s Day reception at the White House, on Tuesday, March 17th, 2009, Barack Obama embraced his recently discovered Irish heritage. He revealed his pride that he had been adopted by Co Offaly, where his great-great-great- grandfather on his mother’s side had emigrated from in 1850, and he noted that he had even been invited over for a pint by a pub in Moneygall, an offer he hoped to be able to take up someday. In an unscripted aside, he joked that he had heard that “Guinness tastes very different in Ireland. It is much better. You guys are keeping the good stuff for yourself. It could start a trade war”.

The story of Obama’s Irish lineage was only revealed in 2007, during his campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for US president. When Obama heard the news his first thought was, as he later admitted, Why didn’t anyone discover this when I was running for office in Chicago? And he joked that he “used to put the apostrophe after the O, but that did not work”.

It has taken until now, however, for the full account of Obama’s Irish connections to be told in print. The book, which will be launched tonight in the Moneygall pub that invited Obama over for a pint, is more than just a study of his genealogical links with Ireland. It is also a thought-provoking study of what it means to be Irish, and how the Irish story goes beyond any simplistic identification with a single religion.

The Kearneys whom Obama is descended from were a Protestant family from Moneygall, in what was then King’s County. Another branch of the family settled in Dublin, where Obama’s great-great-great- great-granduncle John Kearney became provost of Trinity College in 1799. It is significant that the current United States ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, has visited both Kearney’s tomb and Moneygall since his arrival. Obama may not have been aware of his Irish roots until three years ago, and the connection might be considered slight enough when compared to his African and American ancestry, but it is something that he has taken an interest in, and it has become important to him.

The Kearneys of Moneygall made wigs and then shoes, and were relatively successful in the years before the Famine. That catastrophe must surely have affected the family’s fortunes, for in 1849 the patriarch, Joseph Kearney, decided to follow the example of an uncle who had emigrated to Ohio in the late 18th century and set out for the United States. The following year he sent for his family, and his son, Fulmouth Kearney, aged about 20, made the 40-day journey to New York, and from there went on to Ross County, in Ohio. This migration marked the end of Obama’s connections with Ireland, with Fulmouth the great-great-great- grandfather of the 44th president.

After the American Civil War Fulmouth moved to Indiana, where he purchased a small farm in Clinton County. There his daughter, Mary Ann, married Jacob William Dunham. It was said that she spoke with an Irish accent, that all her three sons had black hair and that each of her four daughters had red hair. One of these sons was the father of Stanley Dunham, and it was Stanley Dunham who married the woman who did so much to raise the teenage Obama, his beloved grandmother Madelyn (known as Toot). When she became terminally ill, in the final few days of the 2008 presidental campaign, Obama cancelled all his engagements and flew to Hawaii so he could be near the woman he described as his “quiet hero” and the person who gave him his strength and his discipline.

Obama’s mother was Stanley Ann Dunham – named after her father, because he had wanted a boy. While studying Russian at the University of Hawaii she met and fell in love with a young Kenyan student, Barack Obama. They quickly married, and Barack Obama jnr was born soon after, in 1961. The marriage did not last, and the elder Obama returned to Kenya. His son would have little real contact with him for the rest of his life. Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, is as much an attempt to come to terms with this abandonment by a parent as it is a reflection on the role of race and ethnicity in his own life and in US society in general.

Although Obama did not become aware of the Irish part of his diverse heritage until 2007, he did grow up with stories of other distant connections. He is, for example, a sixth cousin six times removed of Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary frontier lawman, who boasted of having killed more than 100 men. (The real figure was considerably lower.) At a speech in Springfield, Missouri, in July 2008 Obama noted that his distant cousin had fought his first quick-draw gunfight in that town, and he challenged his presidential opponent, John McCain, to a duel on taxes in the same style. Unsurprisingly, when genealogists later proved that Obama was distantly related to George W Bush and Dick Cheney, these connections were not exploited on the campaign trail.

On that first St Patrick’s Day in the White House as president, Obama accepted a bowl of shamrock from the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and an impromptu lesson in Irish. To much applause, the first Irish leader from

Co Offaly explained to the first American president from Co Offaly – admittedly at a considerably more distant remove – that the phrase he needed to know was “Is fĂ©idir linn!” It took Obama two attempts before he delivered the line like a native son.

As we reflect on the diverse paths in Irish history, the stories of success and failure, of enterprise and emigration, and as we face the challenges of the present time, it is a lesson we could all do well to learn. Yes we can.

Patrick M Geoghegan is associate dean of research at Trinity College Dublin. He grew up in Co Offaly

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Irish Roots' Discount Card Planned; The Press Association Reports

The Press Association reported on 19 May 2010 that tourists with Irish roots could be given discounts at some of the country's top visitor attractions under a proposed scheme to rally the Irish Diaspora.

People with Irish ancestry will be eligible for a Certificate of Irish Heritage under new plans being thrashed out by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Although holding the document would not entitle someone to citizenship or other legal rights, the department has proposed that successful applicants would be issued with a small credit-card style card giving knock-down rates at tourist venues.

The scheme would be overseen by the department but run by an outside company funded by fees from the applicants.

Micheal Martin, Foreign Affairs Minister, said firms were being invited to come up with ideas on how to operate the project.

Currently anyone born in Ireland born abroad with an Irish parent or grandparent can qualify for Irish citizenship.

But the department said there were many people worldwide who are of Irish descent but do not qualify for citizenship and it is envisaged the certificate would recognise those people in an official way.

Those hoping to apply will have to prove their claim to Irish ancestry, by producing documents such as a birth certificate, church records of death, marriage and baptism or land records or wills.

The programme would run on a trial basis for a year and be renewed annually thereafter up to a maximum of five years if successful. It is estimated the Diaspora consists of 70 million people across the globe.

Last September Mr Martin proposed the Global Irish Network following a three-day event at Farmleigh, bringing together some of the top minds from the Irish Diaspora to help promote Ireland overseas.


Friday, May 14, 2010

New England Historic Genealogical Society Hosts Free lecture in Dublin on Tracing Your Irish Ancestors Via DNA Testing

Marie Daly, Mary Ellen Grogan and Judy Lucey as well as 24 participants from the New England Historic Genealogical Society are very excited about their upcoming trip to Dublin.

LECTURE: Tracing Your Irish Ancestors via DNA Testing by Dr. Gianpiero Cavalleri

DATE and LOCATION: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 7:00pm Georgian Suite, Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin

Dr. Gianpiero L. Cavalleri, Director and Senior Scientist, of Italian parentage but born and raised in Ireland, is a population geneticist who trained with Prof Dan Bradley at Trinity College, Dublin before going on to work at Stanford with Prof Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Dr Peter Underhill. He is one of the founders of EthnoAncestry and is currently researching the genetics of epilepsy at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, Ireland

This lecture is free and open to everyone. Please join us.

For more information contact Judy Lucey,

The presentation is sponsored by The New England Historic Genealogical Society (Boston) as part of their research trip to Dublin. Special thanks is given to the Genealogical Society of Ireland for their assistance in organizing this event.

Judy Lucey

Assistant Archivist

New England Historic Genealogical Society

101 Newbury Street

Boston, MA 02116-3007

Tel. 617-226-1223

Fax. 617-536-7307

We collect, preserve, and interpret materials that document and make accessible the stories of families in America.

Irish Genealogical Research Society - Ireland Branch Open Day

The IGRS Ireland Branch is hosting an Open Day on Saturday, 22nd May 2010 at Dublin City Library & Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.

The exciting and educational agenda is as follows:

10:00-10:20 Registration & Coffee
Tea & Coffee available in the Library Cafe on the First Floor

10:20-10:30 Chairman's Welcome

10:30-11:10 'Griffith's Valuation and Valuation Office Records: What's There and Where Is It?'
John Grenham

11:15-11:55 'The 1641 Depositions Project and genealogy'
Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer and Dr Elaine Murphy

12:00-13:30 LUNCH (at own expense)

13:45-14:25 'Natives and Newcomers in Cromwellian Ireland'
Dr John Cunningham

14:30-15:10 'The records of Glasnevin Cemetery: A Resource for family History'
Mervyn Colville and Shane Mac Thomais

15:20-16:00 Ask the Experts! Question & Answer Session



For further details please contact: Linda Clayton, Hon. Sec. IGRS (ireland Branch):
(01) 285 6360 or email: