Lyndsey Telford and Ed Carty
THE US First Lady and her two daughters were given a presentation on their family genealogy and connections to Ireland when they visited Trinity College today.
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At Trinity, the Obamas visited the Old Library and were shown the Book of Kells, a ninth-century, elaborately decorated gospel manuscript made by Irish monks.
Dressed casually in jeans and jackets, the girls listened carefully and chatted to tour guides as they happily strolled the length of the Long Room in the famous Old Library of Trinity – Ireland’s oldest university.
The First Lady flicked through the pages of a booklet compiled by Trinity’s genealogists, pointing out interesting facts to Malia and Sasha.
The elder daughter nodded and smiled, appearing relaxed in the spotlight, dressed in a khaki jacket and black cut-off trousers, with bright pink flat shoes.
Her younger sister Sasha looked like any 12-year-old girl on a family holiday, in her bright pink jumper and blue slouchy jacket, dark pink trousers and green pumps.
Mrs Obama is the subject of a new book being published tomorrow which links her ancestry to Protestant Irish immigrants who were plantation and slave owners in the southern states of the US in the 1800s.
The US embassy in Dublin said officials have been aware of the First Lady’s reported ancestry but nothing has been confirmed by the White House.
A huge security operation was in place in Dublin city centre for the First Lady’s trip with parts of St Stephen’s Green and Kildare Street, where the Leinster House parliament is located, closed to through traffic.
The Obamas were given a presentation on their family genealogy and connections to Ireland, compiled by heritage and archive company Eneclann which has been spun out of Trinity research.
It researched President Obama’s ancestry from Falmouth Kearney, his second great-grandfather to his seventh great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney.
It identified John Kearney, whom college researchers described as a distant cousin of the US president, who went on to become the provost of Trinity, and later the Church of Ireland bishop of Ossory, a diocese in the counties of Kilkenny, Laois and Offaly.
The family were also shown an original 19th century map held by the National Library of Ireland which shows lands of Gorthgreen from where some of the family originated.
Trinity provost Dr Patrick Prendergast, who showed the Obamas through the Old Library, said it was a honour to have them at the university.
The college chief told the First Lady their visit was particularly poignant because of the Kearney connections.
“As a country, America has welcomed many of our graduates over the years where a large number of our alumni are living. Our graduates who play a critical role in shaping the knowledge economy are our diaspora,” he added.
President Obama’s distant Irish cousin Henry Healy – who the US leader jokes is known as Henry VIII because of their family ties – presented Michelle and the girls with gifts during their visit to Trinity.
He said both daughters were delighted to get their certificates of Irish heritage.
“Both of them were pretty amazed with the certificates,” Mr Healy said.
“Competing with their friends, now they can prove they’re more Irish than them.”
By Kevin Doyle