Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 11:51 UK

Obama Irish roots include wigmaker

Barack Obama - AP
Barack Obama's Irish ancestors include a wigmaker, genealogists say.

Barack Obama's Irish roots have been strengthened, with the discovery that a distant ancestor was a Dublin wigmaker.

Genealogists now believe the US presidential hopeful is descended from an 18th-Century Dublin businessman.

Previous records found Mr Obama's fourth great-grandfather was a shoemaker in the midlands village of Moneygall, whose son Fulmuth Kearney left for the US in 1850.

But researchers at Trinity College, Dublin, delved further into the would-be-president's colourful past to find his sixth great-granduncle was a prominent Dublin businessman in the 1700s.

Wig-maker Michael Kearney brushed shoulders with Ireland's aristocracy on a daily basis and bought and sold property throughout the city and parts of the country.

Research director with the Trinity company heritage group Eneclann Fiona Fitzsimons said they were amazed by the discovery.

"I didn't expect this," she said.

"When we started off we had Joseph Kearney, shoemaker, that sounded like a country shopkeeper. We were surprised to find any link to Dublin at all.

"He (Michael) made his money from periwigs and perukes, but then he invested the profits from that in a lot of property.

"I think we found 16 deeds in the registry of deeds and some of those refer to other deeds which we didn't find."

His wig company - regarded as an exclusive and profitable trade at the time - was located just metres from Dublin Castle - the then seat of British power in Ireland.

In the 18th century wigs were worn by the aristocracy, professionals and gentry so Kearney would have been mixing with the elite of the Irish capital on a daily basis.

His business dealings also afforded him the opportunity to become a Freeman of Dublin in 1718 and he ended up very active in the politics of his trade guild.

Within a decade of joining he was elected Master of the Guild of Barber Surgeons.

Not afraid of confrontation, when the aristocracy tried to rig Dublin City Council elections in the 1750s to put in their own candidates Kearney was prominent among the Dublin Guildsmen in opposing them.

After the 1780s the fortunes of this line of the Kearney family declined 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.

In May last year, a Church of Ireland rector found Mr Obama's fourth great grandfather - Joseph Kearney - was a shoemaker from Moneygall in County Offaly, whose son Fulmuth emigrated for the US in 1850.

Mr Obama, a married father of two daughters, was born in Hawaii in 1961, to Kenyan Barack Obama Senior and Ann Dunham, from Kansas.

He graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and moved to Chicago in 1985 before studying at Harvard Law School where he was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Rector traces Obama's Irish roots
03 May 07 |  Northern Ireland

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