How the president’s Irish “cousin” is making shrewd use of the First Family.
By Ben Schreckinger
There was little surprise when, shortly after President Obama’s chopper touched down in a patch of emerald grass in Moneygall, Ireland, in 2011, he was whisked inside the local watering hole and soon seen hoisting a pint and mugging for snapshots. It was a photo op, to be sure—one that played well with any of the 40 million Irish-Americans who saw pictures of the president’s visit to their ancestral homeland—but few people would have figured that it was the young Irishman at Obama’s side, Henry Healy, a then-26-year-old former accountant, who would go on to make deft political use of the moment. Fewer still who saw the pictures would have guessed they were looking at two old relatives catching up over a Guinness.
Healy, whose bright smile and ginger hair gives him a rather stereotypically Irish appearance, is a distant relative of Obama’s—who is more often described as America’s first African-American president, not its 12th one with Irish heritage. But both are accurate: Four years before that Obama visit to Ireland, Healy’s paternal uncle used parish records to trace then-Sen. Obama’s great-great-great grandfather to their village of Moneygall, population 310. Healy is one of several distant Obama relations still living in the hamlet, halfway between Dublin and Limerick, and when Obama upset Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, television cameras showed up, and the family put Healy forward as spokesman to explain how happy they were for their long lost cousin. “Speaking in public wouldn’t be something I’d be afraid of,” says Healy, who—as seems to be the village habit—often makes statements by speaking in the conditional. On an island where American politics looms large, Healy was an overnight celebrity.