Origins Network Genealogy News: Barack Obama's Irish Family - The Kearneys

Barack Obama Barack Obama’s Irish links to the Kearney family from Moneygall Co. Offaly came to light last year.
Aug. 7, 2008 - PRLog -- 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 where we found Falmouth's mother, Phoebe Kearney in Griffith's Valuation (

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.

-The Kearney family were probably Gaelic Irish in origin, based on the family name, and the probable place of origin is Tipperary.

-They were Church of Ireland.

-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.

-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 (= Kearney) : Widow of Joseph Kearney of Moneygall, Obama's direct 3rd great-grandfather (

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 known sons:
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 Family Tree (

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 votes.

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 salt.

To see a copy of this pamphlet on Eneclann follow this link Political Pamphlet: (

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 rapid decline.

What might have caused this decline?

-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.

-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.

-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 United States.

For full details, please see:

# # #

Unique Online Genealogy Databases from Britain and Ireland including Marriages, Wills, Census records including images, Apprentice records, Probate records, Passenger lists and Much More!

Like PRLog?
Click to Share