A new discovery of an ancient baptismal cert has finally linked Hollywood actor George Clooney to his ancestral homeland, which is located in the village of Tullahought ,twenty five miles south of the city.
He becomes the latest celebrity with direct ancestral links to the county and follows in the “footsteps of Michael Flatley whose grandmother came from Inistioge and grandfather from St Mullins.
Everyone knows of Barack Obama’s links with the city through his sixth generation grand uncle but the discovery by Kilkenny man, Gabriel Murray of the birth certificate of George Clooney’s long lost relative.
George Clooney announced recently that next April he is returning to Ireland in search of his Irish roots. After meeting U2’s Bono at the Toronto Film Festival, Clooney was reminded of his long standing promise to visit here.
Local film maker and historian Gabriel Murray - who recently won first Prize at the Hampton Black International Film Festival in the US for his documentary film ‘Obama’s Irish Root’s’ - decided to find out exactly where Mr Clooney’s roots were.
He had heard a rumour that George’s ancestor’s were from county Kilkenny. The difficulty was that there are many Clooneys from Kilkenny city, Graignamanagh and Gowran.
On investigation it was discovered that George’s antecedent was a Nicholas Clooney from Windgap. There was some previous investigation in 2008. The baptismal cert of Nicholas Clooney, George’s 6th generation ancestor, had not been found. A Fas community employment scheme recently computerised all the birth records in Ireland. When Gabriel discovered the relevant certificate last week, it revealed that Nicholas Clooney was baptised in Windgap church on 23 July 1829 and was from Knockeen, Tullahought.
The next problem was the location of the actual townland where Nicholas was born and site of the ancestral home. A valuable source of information was Griffith’s valuation of 1850, which was a census of all households in Ireland. The missing link between the cert was found, confirming that Nicholas was indeed from the townland of Knockeen.
With the assistance of Dr Michael Conway, proprietor of the Hole in the Wall in Kilkenny, Gabriel travelled down to Tullahought and started searching for George’s ancestral home. After two hours climbing the hills of Knockeen, they located the ancestral home of Mr Clooney. On Griffith’s map a cluster of houses nestled at the foothills of Knockeen. When they knocked on the front door of one of the houses, they were greeted by Peter Purcell and his son, Paul. They were invited in for a cup of tea. Peter informed them that, three years before, some investigators had been on the trail, but had failed to return with documentary proof.
Peter’s mother was a Bourke who had married into the Clooney family. On checking Nicholas’ birth cert, Gabriel discovered that Peter’s great granduncle, Patrick Bourke, had been godfather at Nicholas Clooney’s christening in 1849. Nicholas’ father was David Clooney, and his mother was Mary McGrath. The McGrath family are all now deceased.
Peter Purcell recalled stories told by his mother, who was a Burke, of how his ancestors the Clooneys had uprooted overnight and left for Kentucky. Peter mentioned that his relative, Mary Egan’s mother, was also a Bourke. The McGraths and the Bourkes had married into the Clooney clan in the 18th century.
Nicholas Clooney had left for America and settled in Kentucky, circa 1847. This was a tragic time in Irish history, the year of the great famine, when millions had died from starvation. Nicholas would have been eighteen, and with him on the emigrant ship was Brigit Byron from Green Street, Callan, Co. Kilkenny.
Mary Egan is organising a reception for George Clooney in Tullahought when he comes next year. Mary plans to invite all the Clooney’ cousins from throughout Ireland. The community hall in Tullahought and Power’s bar are the venues cited. Powers has recently re-opened after being closed for 20 years. It is over 200 years old. It is certain that all of George Clooney’s ancestors used to drink there. The Clancy brothers performed there in the past. As part of the reception, John Joyce a former resident of Tullahought and a great nephew of novelist James Joyce, has agreed to bring together local musicians to perform at the reception in April. Gabriel and Mary have sent a formal invitation to George’s agents in America. Tullahought is located in one of the most beautiful valleys in Ireland, with stunning views and Celtic high crosses, a burial chamber at Knockroe and other important archaeological sites. Gabriel will also screen the documentary ‘George Clooney’s Irish Roots’ at the Hole in the Wall, Kilkenny.
When George Clooney walks in the doors of Power’s Pub next April, it will be 154 years since his ancestor Nicholas exited the same door.
Dancer Michael Flatley’s maternal grandparents are from the Kilkenny area: his grandfather Paddy Ryan of Dranagh, St Mullins, Co Carlow (not far from Graignamanagh) and his grandmother Hannah from Inistioge.
And it was his grandmother who gave him a passion for Irish dancing.
“Both his mother and his grandmother, Hannah Ryan, were champion Irish dancers, so dance was definitely in his blood,” explains thebiographychannel.co.uk. “Michael’s grandmother Hannah taught him his very first dance steps and always encouraged him to ‘follow his dreams’.
To this day, Michael always keeps an empty chair for his grandmother in the front row of all his concerts, as a sign of remembrance and tribute.
Speaking of his grandmother in an interview, Michael said: ‘She once visited me in Chicago in an ice cold winter. At that time, I was completely broke, working occasional jobs for a couple of bucks an hour, dreaming of becoming the greatest dancer in the world. It was she who encouraged me to make my life special and to dance. Two weeks later, she died. The empty seat is a sign of respect to her, for I believe she is still watching me’.” His grandparents retired in the area, and his parents now have a house there too.