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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Shinrone: birthplace and resting place of Obama’s Irish ancestors

The parish of Shinrone in Co Offaly, just 10 miles from Moneygall, is the place where President Obama’s earliest Irish ancestors can be traced and boasts a connection with not just one US president, but two.

Image: AP Photo/Paul Beaty

As President Obama’s visit to Ireland draws near, the parish of Shinrone points out its place in the history of the president, as the farthest-back site of his ancestors.

Shinrone is really delighted that President Obama will visit Ireland, and particularly Co Offaly – the home of his Kearney ancestors. In March, we formally extended an invitation to the US President to lay a wreath on a memorial to his ancestors who are buried in the graveyard of the local parish Church of St Mary.

As has been known since 2008, Shinrone, only 10 miles from Moneygall, is actually the farthest back to which President Obama’s Kearney family history has been traced and was regarded by them as the ancestral home. The president’s seventh-great-grandparents, Joseph (who was born in 1698 and lived to age 93) and Cicely Kearney, are buried at the graveyard here, along with many members of the Kearney family.

One of Joseph and Cicely Kearney’s four sons, also named Joseph, married a girl from Moneygall in Shinrone and eventually moved there with his wife and children in search of work. His eldest son William, who was baptised in Shinrone, was the grandfather of Falmouth Kearney who emigrated to America. (Although, another son also baptised in Shinrone, Thomas, was actually the first of the Kearney family to make that journey – in the late 18th century).

President Obama might therefore be interested in viewing some of the 40+ original baptism, marriage and burial records of his ancestors, which are held by the Church of St Mary.

The site the oldest Kearney ancestral home has been identified, as has one of the earliest Kearney business interests.

The church graveyard holds the graves of at least 15 Kearneys, 8 of them infants or children, all in unmarked graves or marked only by small plain stones – probably due to the increasingly poor circumstances of the family. We thus felt it appropriate that those Kearneys buried there were commemorated with a fitting memorial stone, and would be honoured if, one day, President Obama might accept our invitation to lay a wreath on the site and, if he wishes, view the parish church and original records.

Not one, but two presidential connections

However, Shinrone does not only have a connection to the current US President, but also one to the first – George Washington.

Recorded in our register is the baptism of Edward Hand, who was born and grew up in the parish (alongside the Kearney family). He qualified as a doctor and travelled to America with the British Army. Once there, however, he changed sides, joining the Continental Army and eventually becoming Major General Edward Hand.

Maj Gen Hand was in charge of Fort Pitt for a time, and hero of the War of Independence at the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Trenton and Princeton. He was also the architect of the siege plan which led to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, and friend and comrade in arms of George Washington.

He eventually became a Member of Congress and was chosen as a Presidential Elector for Pennsylvania – thus playing a part in the election of Washington as the first President of the United States.

Shinrone parish has thus produced both a man who was a friend of, and helped elect, the first President of the United States, as well as the ancestors of the man who became its 44th president. And both would most probably have known each other.

We fully understand that the president’s time is extremely limited during this trip and, as such, he has been unable to accept our invitation. However, we do hope that at some time in the future he might wish to return and visit the village of Shinrone – his oldest documented ancestral home.

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