President Barack Obama’s cousin Henry Healy is now helping the Diaspora connect with their Irish roots – and with great success.
The Offaly publican has told the Sunday Independent of the success of the Ireland Reaching Out campaign which he is helping to front.
The President’s cousin is now the public face of the Ireland XO organisation as it offers help to the 70 million people around the globe of Irish extraction.
Ireland XO is described in a Sunday Independent report as a ‘unique service that helps Irish people establish contact with relatives around the world’.
The creators of the Galway based initiative are calling it ‘genealogy in reverse’ according to the paper.
The service focuses on parish and baptismal records rather than birth certs as many of them no longer exist.
Healy told the Sunday Independent: “You could say we focus on the living rather than the dead and instead of people coming to us, our trainees go to them.
“Ireland Reaching Out works on the principle that a committee of local people or individuals access a name on a parish record and then seek out that person’s surviving relatives overseas.”
Healy added that the service is entirely free and available online at www.Irelandxo.com.
He said: “All we ask for is time. All we need is people to volunteer their time, be it 20 minutes or two hours a week, we just want people to commit time to the programme to try and reach out and connect to people overseas.
“We offer free training programmes for communities. We are working constantly on developing training programmes which are county specific.
“We try to keep things very localised so that, for example, if we are in Co Westmeath, the training is held there by local trainers and the hope is we can bring people back to Westmeath and various other towns and villages around the country.”
In his new role, Henry teaches community groups how to access parish records and make follow-up contacts with families whose descendants left Ireland.
Already over 8,000 people have travelled to Ireland to connect with ‘lost’ relatives thanks to the initiative which originated at the first Irish Global Economic Forum in 2009.
The service is now active in 35 per cent of parishes across the 32 counties and has more than 480 local liaison contacts as well as 187 online global volunteers.
A full-time ambassador with the project since last year, Healy said: “Every town and village in the country has the ability to contact and attract its people back through the service.”
Healy continues to enjoy his new found fame after discovering his own link to President Obama.
This summer, he escorted the New Zealand Rose Judeena Carpenter at the Tralee Festival.
He said: “It was an absolutely brilliant experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d encourage anyone to do it. I now have an invitation to New Zealand and other parts of the world. We have a reunion this weekend in Dublin and we’re also reuniting in New York on St Patrick’s Day. The whole thing has been fantastic.”
And the report adds that last week, he received a letter and photograph from the US First Lady Michelle Obama who expressed her delight at meeting Henry in Trinity College Dublin during her visit here in June.
He revealed: “It’s a relationship that’s still there and it’s one that we hope will be maintained during the remainder of his presidency and into his retirement.”