A DISTANT cousin of Barack Obama has declared once and for all that ‘Barack Obama is an Offaly man’.
Speaking ahead of the US President’s visit to his ancestral home, Henry Healy told the Offaly Express, “I can assure everybody that Barack Obama is an Offaly man and everyone living in Moneygall lives in Offaly. We might play our sports in Tipperary but sports don’t define where we come from.”
President Obama announced on St Patrick’s Day that he would visit Offaly in May. While the American Embassy said that he will visit Ireland on May 22 and 23, it is unsure at this stage which date he will visit Offaly on.
Mr Healy said the village of Moneygall is over the moon with the news, given that they have supported Mr Obama every step of the way.
“No one really took Barack Obama seriously until he actually bet Hillary Clinton in Iowa back in January 2008. Everyone in Moneygall started to genuinely believe “yes this man can actually do it” and we all began to rally behind. We accumulated in the local many nights watching the different elections, waiting for the results to come in from the different primaries. The biggest night I suppose was November 5 when he bet John McCain. Everyone in the village was 100% behind him during the campaign and everyone is excited at the prospects of hosting the most powerful man in the world,” explained Mr Healy.
The shared ancestry between Mr Healy and President Obama stretches back through the centuries.
“Our ancestry is shared with President Obama through the marriage of Joseph Kearney and Sarah Healy. They married in 1761. Josephy Kearney was from Shinrone and Sarah Healy was from Moneygall. They had a son, William Kearney. When he married he had a son Joseph Kearney, who was the shoemaker in Moneygall from his marriage with Phoebe Donavan they had their son Fulmuth Kearney who emigrated in 1850 to the United States.”
He said the link was first discovered the in May 2007, when the announcement was made that a Fulmuth Kearney was an ancestor of the democratic candidate at time. “An uncle of mine had conducted family research at the time, had the family tree done and had been working with a family of Kearney’s in Ohio in America. Immediately we were able to make the connection because my uncle had all the groundwork done. So within an hour of the news breaking we were able to make the connection which has been confirmed and authenticated by Cannon Steven Neill as well.”
Mr Healy along with Cannon Neill were invited by Stella O’Leary, President of the Irish American Democrats to President Obama’s Inauguration in November 2008. “We were on Pensylvania Avenue watching down from the balcony of the Reagan Trade Centre watching the senator become the President of the United States.”
Although he has never come face to face with his famous cousinm Mr Healy hopes that will all change in May.
“I’ve never had any contact or got to meet him face to face I’m a little bit more hopeful now that he is coming to Moneygall that I might get to meet him. Then again there are still no guarantees,” he said.
The homestead in still on the main street of Moneygall where Shannon Development and Offaly County Council have erected an information board at the front of the house so it is easily identifiable.
To mark the occasion the village is to get a free facelift. “Dulux paints have offered to paint the village from top to bottom free of charge,” said Mr Healy.
Although the community are anxious to put their mark on the occasion, Mr Healy “all we can do is offer our ideas because protocol will dictate.”
“We would hope he would visit the ancestral home, the school house that still stands that his ancestors attended and Templeharry Church where all the family were baptised and worshipped. They are all still standing and are important sites for the president to visit,” said Mr Healy. Of course it wouldn’t be a presidential visit to Ireland without the traditional pint of Guinness. But in Moneygall which has two pubs, Ollies and Joe Haye’s the two will have to “fight it out.”
Above all Mr Healy said he wants the occasion to showcase Offaly to the world. “It is a genuine Offaly connection. Moneygall I know mightnt have the strongest association to Offaly, but this is for Offaly and we are all thoroughly embracing our Offaly roots because the President has embraced his Offaly roots.”
Mr Healy said he would love to present President Obama with a gift from Offaly. “I have spoken with the Embassy and protocol does dictate what we can give to the president. We are awaiting confirmation of what we can and cant present. Genuinely I can assure you if we have a say in Moneygall the gift will have an Offaly association to it.”
So for the moment the people of Moneygall can just make ready their ideas. “We have a couple of meetings lined up with Offaly Leader and the council. We are being selective, there are quite a few crazy ideas being thrown our way.
We are not experts in welcoming a President but we will do our best.”