It was April 2007 when Canon Stephen Neill, the Church of Ireland rector of the parish received a phone call from Salt Lake City, Utah. At the other end of the line was Kyle Betit, a specialist in Irish genealogical research working on behalf of Megan Smolenyak of Ancestry.com.
Megan had traced the Irish roots of President Barack Obama to the Church of Ireland diocese of Killaloe and Kyle was joining the last few links in the chain of evidence which would prove the then Senator Barack Obama’s Irish heritage.
The phone call was not Kyle Betit’s first effort in contacting Canon Neill. He had send a couple of emails which had sat in the inbox with numerous other genealogical enquiries from around the world. These enquiries come into parish clergy on a regular basis. In those emails he had not mentioned the link with the already famous Senator Obama but on the phone he did and Canon Neill already deeply interested in US politics was very excited to hear of the possible link.
The enquiry was about a Joseph and Phoebe Kearney and their son Fulmouth or Falmouth Kearney and his siblings.
Fulmouth Kearney was Barack Obama’s 3rd Great Grandfather (6 generations) and he emigrated to the US in 1850 aboard the SS Marmion.
From records in the United States there was evidence in the form of a marriage license between Joseph and Phoebe Kearney which took place in the diocese of Killaloe and it was this that was to eventually point the way to Moneygall.
The records were those of Templeharry Church, a rural Church of Ireland /Anglican church built about 1800 and located a few miles North of Moneygall.
Until a few weeks before the discovery the custodian of the records had been Mrs Elizabeth Shortt, the parish treasurer. Sadly she had just died and the records were now in the custody of her son Harry.
Harry and the rector soon located the relevant registers and were delighted and more than a little amazed to find the conclusive proof of Senator Obama’s roots in the baptismal records of Templeharry Church.
Searching through these records they found Joseph & Phoebe Kearney in the context of baptisms of Fulmouth’s siblings, William and Mary-Anne, and these entries also provided the occupation of Fulmouth’s father, a shoemaker from Moneygall.
Thankfully an index had been compiled about 20 years previously by a community employment scheme, which made the task of trawling through these ancient records a little easier.
Though in some cases difficult to decipher, the original records are in remarkably good condition. They are now in the safe custody of the RCB Library (Church of Ireland Archives) in Dublin though they were available for the President to view personally during his historic trip to Moneygall in May 2011.
Since the initial discovery the location of the family dwelling has also been located and a house still stands on the site and was one of the sites President Obama and the First Lady visited in Moneygall.
Also still standing is the old schoolhouse where the President’s ancestors would have attended.
Sadly the Kearney family are no longer in the parish as the whole family ultimately emigrated to US but some local links remain with the Healy family in Moneygall who were twice intermarried with the Kearney clan in the mid 1700’s, and in recent times acknowledged by the President as his Irish cousins.
Read more information on Obamas visit to Moneygall, when he met Henry Healy and learned more about his Irish Roots.