Infectious joy is the only way to described President Obama's reception in Ireland today. As strange as it may seem, this was seen by everyone as a homecoming. Alongside his well-known Hawaian and Kenyan roots the President stood with some 40 million other Irish-Americans and proudly claimed his Irish ancestry.
How that ancestry was proven is a remarkable tale in itself. Genealogists had been working on Obama's ancestry during the election campaign. They had uncovered the fact that the would-be-president's great-great-grandmother had an Irish immigrant father, one Fulmouth Kearney, who arrived in New York on 20th March 1850 from Moneygall, Co Offaly, but there the documentary trail went cold. It took the Church of Ireland Rector of Cloughjordan in Co. Tipperary, Canon Stephen Neill, to find the missing evidence. The church records of Templeharry near Moneygall had been in the care of its Treasurer, Elizabeth Shortt, who died in 2007. Fortunately her son kept the old books his mother had looked after for so long, and it was in these faded volumes that the Rector found incontrovertible proof of the Fulmouth Kearney connection and more. It turns out that Kearney family members had in fact been in America since the 1790s with different individuals emigrating there over the course of several generations.
So as the song goes, 'There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama,' and the President can justifiably claim to be recovering an Irish apostrophe lost somewhere along the way! And yet we may wonder whether there's much actual content to that remembering of an Irish ancestry. Is it really anything more than a curious fact about the past?
My answer has to be that it is indeed more than just a curiosity. The 'Irish connection' reinforces again the President's credentials as a real American - an inheritor of that proud tradition of immigrants who against all the odds built a new land and an identity for themselves. In that way this old lineage serves a very present purpose. The rather improbable way these connections were discovered only serves to reinforce the romance of it all. This remembering touches hearts, enhances reputation, and reinforces common ideals expressed in the person of President Obama.
Collective memory mechanism:
Remembering always serves the present.