New research on Barack Obama’s Irish Family

Eneclann, Ltd. of Trinity College has found more information on Sen. Barak Obama’s Irish Family, The Kearneys (Obama Irish Family History and Obama Irish Family Tree).

Eneclann Ltd, founded in 1998,  is a consulting service in the historical and heritage fields. Eneclann employs professional historians, genealogists and archivists who combine an expert research methodology with a detailed knowledge of the sources. The scope of Eneclann’s historical research consultancy ranges from family history and individual house histories through to large heritage and historical research projects.

New research takes Barack Obama’s Irish Family – The Kearneys, back to the late 17th Century and finds a family of wig-makers with an early involvement in local city politics. Up to now, what was in the public domain, brought Eneclann researchers back to Falmouth Kearney, Obama’s 2nd great-grandfather, from Moneygall Co. Offally. Through extensive research genealogists at Eneclann ( have taken the Kearney family tree back to Obama’s 6th great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney born ca. 1698.

The Kearneys were skilled artisans, who prospered in the 18th Century. One branch of the family did extremely well; Michael Kearney, (Obama’s 6th 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 19th 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.

The starting point was the records at where researchers found Falmouth’s mother, Phoebe Kearney in Griffith’s Valuation. The Kearney family that settled in Shinrone, Co. Offaly from the 1740s onwards is 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 18th 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 the 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 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.”

Further details of this research can be found at

About Libbi

Writer for 30 years. Genealogy a hobby for about 40 years. Yes, I'm in my 50's, I learned about genealogy at my mother's knee!
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