- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

LONDON | An ancestor of U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama was embroiled in Irish politics in the 1750s and fought an attempt to rig an election, according to new genealogical research published Thursday.

Last year, it was discovered that the Democratic senator’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side was Falmouth Kearney, whose son Fulmuth emigrated from the Irish midlands to the United States in 1850.

Eneclann, a family history research consultancy company at Trinity College, has now delved back further through the history of the Kearneys and uncovered what it describes as a “fascinating story” of five previous generations.

Mr. Obama’s sixth great-uncle, Michael Kearney, a wig maker, was a top business figure in Dublin and became master of the Guild of Barber Surgeons and Periwigmakers.

“People wore wigs because they didn’t wash their hair - water was thought to spread disease,” Eneclann says. “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.”

As a Freeman of Dublin City, Kearney had the right to vote in elections for the city council.

He also took part in the politics of his trade guild - when he stood as master of the guild he won the election hands down, receiving 44 votes to his nearest rival’s five.

Eneclann also found an Obama ancestor battling against political corruption.

“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,” Eneclann says.

Elsewhere, the research found that a cousin of Mr. Obama’s was the head, or provost, of Trinity College Dublin. He later became a bishop in the Protestant Church of Ireland, which was then the established church of the Irish ruling class.

The family line from which Mr. Obama descends moved to County Offaly in the midlands. That branch of the family took up shoemaking and failed to prosper like the Dublin branch during the 19th century before they emigrated to the United States.

As a result of waves of immigration, about 34 million people in the United States claim an Irish connection today, and many previous presidential hopefuls used their “green” ancestry to attract the Irish-American vote.

Ronald Reagan’s great-grandfather, Michael O’Reagan, hailed from the town of Ballyporeen in County Tipperary in the 1820s.

John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, emigrated from Dunganstown, County Wexford, and Bill Clinton’s maternal ancestors are said to have come from County Fermanagh, now part of Northern Ireland.

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