Barack Obama, former President of the US, has Irish roots in County Offaly
Merlyn White, Obama's third cousin once removed, learned of her connection to the president while visiting a distant relation in Scotland. The news led her to reconsider an old family photo album she had inherited from her 107-year-old great aunt.
In the album's pages, she found portraits of Fulmoth and his wife Charlotte, which she shared with genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who first identified Fulmoth as Obama's Irish ancestor.
This revelation of the photo comes on the heels of the discovery of Kearney's final resting place in a Kansas cemetery and his memorialization with a headstone after 136 years.
In 2007, Smolenyak traced then-candidate Barack Obama’s Irish ancestry on his mother’s side, eventually finding that his third great-grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, left Moneygall for New York in 1850. He and his sister Margaret were bound for Ohio, where their father had inherited land from a brother. Other members of the Kearney family would gradually make their journey to America, but Fulmoth was the most recent immigrant on the maternal side of Obama's family.
Smolenyak's discovery was the catalyst for the Obamas’ joyous visit to Ireland in May 2011, during which the president raised a pint in Moneygall and gave his historic and poignant speech in Dublin.
However, as Smolenyak shared in a piece on her Huffington Post blog, there was one loose end in Fulmoth’s story – his date of death and place of burial. Furthermore, there were no known photos of Obama's direct Irish ancestor.
That mystery has finally been solved: Fulmoth Kearney’s grave is now properly marked, and we now have faces to go with the names of Kearney and his wife Charlotte.
President Obama’s second cousin once removed Dean Dillard of Chanute, Kansas, recently figured out Kearney’s date of death – March 21, 1878 - and final resting place. With the research help of Norman Peters, Dillard tracked down old cemetery records to Ohio and figured out that Fulmoth was buried in Kansas, in Labette County’s Fairview Cemetery, with his wife, Charlotte.
In 2014, Dillard and Peters had a headstone erected on the bare burial plot. One hundred and thirty-six years after his death, Kearney was finally memorialized. The headstone notes Fulmoth and Charlotte as the “great-great-great-grandparents of President Barack Obama.”
What's more, Merlyn White's photo album further corroborates this by listing the same dates of death for Fulmoth and Charlotte.
Smolenyak is thrilled with this fitting bookend to the story of Obama’s Irish ancestor.
"Thanks to the discovery and memorialization of the final resting spot of Fulmoth Kearney, we now how a cradle-to-grave rendition of the life of Barack Obama's Irish immigrant ancestor,” she told IrishCentral.
“The young fellow who left Moneygall in 1850 emigrated to Ohio where he built a log cabin, married, and had a family before moving on to Indiana and Kansas. He's well remembered in Ireland, and I'm delighted to see things brought full circle with a headstone for his place of burial in Kansas."
Between this and the photograph, she added, "I guess Fulmoth decided that it was finally time to give up his secrets!"
Interestingly, she pointed out, Melvina Shields Magruder, one of First Lady Michelle Obama's third great-grandparents, who died in 1938, was finally commemorated with a headstone in Georgia only three months ago.
"2014 has been a good year for previously overlooked Obama ancestors," she wrote.
* Originally published in December 2014.