Half (23 out of 46) of all presidents of the United States of America can claim a degree of Irish Heritage. In fact, since John F. Kennedy's trip to Ireland in 1963, almost every US President has traveled to Ireland. This week, we welcome President Joe Biden, he'll be celebrating 25 years of peace in Northern Ireland with us as well reconnecting with his Blewitt roots in County Mayo and Finnegan roots in County Louth.
Below, we've outlined a summary of each president's Irish ancestry.
#1 Andrew Jackson, 7th President, (1767 -1845) served as the 7th president from 1829 to 1837. He was the first president born to immigrant parents and remains hugely controversial thanks in part to his ruthless treatment of Native Americans in the southeastern United States. His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth (Hutchinson) were poor protestant farmers who left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim to Carolina two years before Andrew, their youngest son was born in 1767. His father died during his formative years and Andrew was brought up extremely poor. When Andrew was 13, during the American Revolution, the British imprisoned him for running messages to the rebel army. When he refused to clean a British officer’s boots the officer struck him with a sword, scarring him for life. In the War of 1812, against the British, he was chosen to lead the American defense of New Orleans and despite being up against 10,000 professionals, he declared victory with just 4,000 troops at his disposal. This made him a national hero creating a path to the presidency in 1828.
#2 James Knox Polk,11th President (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the firstborn child to Samuel and Jane Knox Polk. The Polk's first arrived in Maryland in the late 17th century. His father Samuel Polk was a slaveholder, successful farmer, and surveyor of Scots-Irish descent. Before arriving in Maryland he had held land in Coleraine in Derry and Lifford in Donegal. He was elected president in January 1845 at the age of 50 making him the youngest President in US history. He is best known for expanding the land owned by the United States by over 1 million square miles.
LEARN MORE: Coleraine, County Derry
#3 James Buchanan Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) served as the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. Born to James Buchanan Sr. (1761–1821) and Elizabeth Speer (1767–1833) both of Scottish Presbyterian stock from the north of Ireland. James Buchanan’s father was born in County Donegal into a family which originally hailed from Carbeth, near Stirling, in Scotland. During the late 17th century, George Buchanan of this family relocated from Scotland to Ulster and settled near Omagh, County Tyrone. George's son William Alexander Buchanan (sometimes named Thomas) moved west to Low Cairn near Ramelton in County Donegal where the President’s grandfather John Buchanan was born circa 1716. Pictured below is the Buchanan Ancestral Home still standing in Deroran, near Omagh.
LEARN MORE: Ramelton Town
#4 Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th president of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808, to Jacob Johnson (1778–1812) and Mary ("Polly") McDonough (1783–1856), a laundress. Both his parents, Presbyterians, left Northern Ireland in 1765 for North America where they were both employed at Casso's Inn, Mary worked as a weaver and Jacob was a stableman. Johnson was born into poverty and never attended school. He had a brother, William, four years his senior, and an older sister Elizabeth, who died in childhood. He was apprenticed as a tailor and worked in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He served as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835.
#5 Ulysses S. Grant, (April 27, 1822- July 23, 1885) was the 18th President of the United States. He was a celebrated Union Army General in the American Civil War in 1865 and served as U.S. Secretary of War. He was the first ever US President to visit Ireland arriving in Dublin in 1879 and visiting Trinity College, The Royal Irish Academy, and the Bank of Ireland.
His great great grandfather John Simpson was born in a farmhouse outside Ballygawley in County Tyrone. He lived in a small, whitewashed cottage (pictured below) until, aged 22 when he emigrated to the American Colonies. Simpson and his wife Hannah had one daughter, also Hannah, who married Jess Root Grant and, in 1822, had a son - Hiram Ulysses Grant - the eldest of six children.
Image: US Grant Ancestral Homestead
#6 Chester A.Arthur, (October 5, 1829 - November 18, 1886), was the 21st President of the United States. Arthur's grandparents Alan and Eliza Arthur lived in Cullybackey, County Antrim. The original homestead has been preserved and is now called Arthur's Cottage which gives information about the President's Irish roots. The family originally from Scotland changed their name from MacArthur to Arthur so as not to be associated with the Catholic MacArthur. Arthur's father, William Arthur, was born in 1796 in Dreen, Cullybackey, County Antrim, and was a Baptist preacher who left in 1818 for Quebec where he married Malvina Stone.
Chester was born in Vermont and grew up in upstate New York. In his younger years, Chester Arthur supported the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization founded in America, by wearing a green coat...
#7 Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) served as the 22nd and the 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president in U.S. history to serve two non-consecutive presidential terms. He was born in New Jersey but grew up in upstate New York. Grover Cleveland’s Irish ancestry came through his mother, Anne Neal, whose father, Abner Neal, came from County Antrim to America in the 1790s.
#8 Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901) served as the 23rd President of the United States.
Benjamin Harrison was born into political activism with his grandfather serving as the 9th President of the United States. His great-grandfather Benjamin Harrison V was a founding father who signed the Declaration of Independence. President Harrison was a devout Presbyterian and like many of his predecessors as president. His Irish roots are from his mother's side, James Irwin and William McDowell emigrated from Antrim, and his mother Elizabeth Irwin Harrison grew up in a Scotch-Irish community in Pennsylvania.
#9 William McKinley (January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901) served as the 25th President of the United States until his assassination in 1901. He was the great-grandson of James McKinley who emigrated to America from Conagher in County Antrim around 1743. The Presbyterian McKinleys were originally from Perthshire, Scotland. McKinley’s grandparents fought in the Revolutionary War and the family was involved in iron manufacturing. William McKinley, the 25th US President, was a US Representative for 12 years and Governor of Ohio for four. He was assassinated in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. President McKinley was a Methodist. He was intensely proud that the Scots-Irish were the f
#10 Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), served as the 26th President of the United States. Roosevelt’s maternal ancestors are believed to have hailed from Larne, Co. Antrim. The 26th president was the youngest ever to take office when, at 43, he succeeded William McKinley following his assassination. A charismatic leader, he expanded the powers of the presidency and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Russo-Japanese War. He described the Scots-Irish as “a stern, virile, bold and hardy people who formed the kernel of that American stock who were the pioneers of our people in the march westwards”.
#11 William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) served as the 27th President of the United States
William Howard Taft’s Irish roots went back to Richard Robert Taft, who died in County Louth in 1700. His son, Robert, emigrated to Massachusetts in the 18th century. William Howard Taft, the 27th president, came from a prominent Republican family in Ohio. Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as president and supported more liberal immigration laws and opposed a literacy test for unskilled workers.
#12 Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) served as the 28th President of the United States.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born to a family of Scots-Irish and Scottish descent in Staunton, Virginia. He was the third of four children and the first son of Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Jessie Janet Woodrow. Wilson's paternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1807, settling in Steubenville, Ohio. His grandfather James Wilson published a pro-tariff and anti-slavery newspaper, The Western Herald and Gazette. Wilson's maternal grandfather, Reverend Thomas Woodrow, moved from Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, to Carlisle, Cumbria, England, before migrating to Chillicothe, Ohio, in the late 1830s. Joseph met Jessie while she was attending a girls' academy in Steubenville, and the two married on June 7, 1849. Soon after the wedding, Joseph was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor and assigned to serve in Staunton
#13 Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) served as the 33rd President of the United States. He was the first US President to be presented with the traditional bowl of shamrock on St.Patricsk Day in 1952. Taking office following the death of his predecessor Franklin D. Roosevelt, he oversaw the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In 1948, he became the first American president to attend a St.Patricks Day parade in New York City. Historians have traced his roots to Donegal and Tyrone.
#14 John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), served as the 35th President of the United States. All four of his grandparents were children of Irish immigrants. Kennedy had an older brother, Joseph Jr., and seven younger siblings. JFK was proud of his Irish ancestry. His mother was Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, descended from Thomas Fitzgerald (1823-1885) from Bruff, Co. Limerick, and Rose Anna Cox (1836-1879) from Co. Cavan. His father was descended from Patrick Kennedy (1823-1858), a cooper from Dunganstown, Co. Wexford, and Bridget Murphy (1827-1888) from Owenduff, also in Co. Wexford. He visited Ireland on the 26th of June 1963, and five months later he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
LEARN MORE: Kennedy Connections
#15 Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973) served as the 36th President.
President Johnson's grandfather is believed to have left Mounthill in Antrim for Britain's North American colonies around 1760. Johnson became president following the assassination of JFK .
#16 Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994), served as the 37th President of the United States
Richard Milhous Nixon had Irish roots on both sides of his family. Nixon’s father Frank also had Irish roots and was descended from James Moore, born in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, in 1777. Although raised as a Methodist, Frank joined the Quakers in his marriage, and Richard Nixon was raised as a Quaker. His mother, Hannah Milhouse, descended from a Quaker family from Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, who had moved to Timahoe, Co. Kildare, in the early 18th century. In 1729, Thomas Milhouse from Timahoe emigrated to Pikefoot, Pennsylvania, with his wife Sarah Mickle. They were Nixon’s sixth great-grandparents. He likened his extraordinary musical ability to his Irish DNA!
#17 Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. born Leslie Lynch King Jr.; (July 14, 1913 – December 26), served as the 38th President of the United States.
His Great (x4) Grandparents were from Armagh and Down
#18 James Earl Carter Jr. (born October 1, 1924), served as the 39th President of the United States
His paternal great-grandmother Sophronia Cowan’s (married to Captain James Pratt, whose lineage has been lost) three times great-grandfather (so Jimmy’s six-times great-grandfather) was Andrew Seawright from Derry in Northern Ireland. His wife, Mary Eleanor Dickson, came from Donegal. Another six times great-grandfather of Jimmy Carter was Andrew Cowan who is believed to come from County Down.
Another Irish ancestor was six times great-grandfather, James Brownlee, who came from County Antrim. Brownlee and Cowan settled in Boonesborough South Carolina in 1772.
#19 Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004), served as the 40th President of the United States. He was the first ever US President to publicly sample a pint of the black stuff! He tried it during a visit to his ancestral village of Ballyporeen in county Tipperary in 1984. The locals were so pleased they renamed the bar after him. The pub's owner, Mary O'Farrell, told the BBC "He was real Irish in temperament …You'd know he was Irish, he had that sense of humor and glint in his eye."
His great-grandfather, Michael Reagan, was from County Tipperary, and immigrated to Canada and then the United States. Michael's wife, Catherine Mulcahey, was also born in Ireland.
#20 #21 George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018) 41st President of the United States, and George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) served as the 43rd President of the United States.
Their heritage has been traced back to Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (also known as Strongbow). Strongbow was the leader of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170. Additionally, they have also been genealogically linked to Dermot MacMurrough, the 12th-century Gaelic king of Leinster.
Another Irish connection is to Erskine Hamilton Childers, Ireland’s 4th president.
However, their most ‘straight-forward’ Irish lineage is neither royal nor presidential. Their four resp. five times great-grandfather, William Holliday, comes from Rathfriland, County Down. Here he was born in about 1755 and settled in Kentucky where he died in 1811 or 1812.
#22 Barack Hussein Obama II born August 4, 1961, served as the 44th President of the United States.
Falmouth Kearney aka Carney is the third great-grandfather of Barack on his maternal side.
Falmouth's grandfather, William Kearny, a shoemaker (in Monegall and Roscrea) was the son of Joseph Kearney Jr. (William's brother, Tom Kearney, was the first to emigrate to Ohio).
Falmouth's great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney Jr. a wool comber was the son of Joseph Kearny Sr. a farmer in Gortcreen (who had been gifted this farm by his successful wig-maker brother, Michael Kearney – who traded in Georgian Dublin, Moneygall, and Shinrone).
#23 Joe Biden (November 20, 1942), current President
Hailed as the most Irish of all United States Presidents, 10 of his 16 great-great-grandparents come from here, comprising of the Arthurs, Blewitts, Boyles, Roches, Scanlon, and Stantons on his mother's side, with just one-eighth, adding the name Hanafee, from his father's.
Patrick P. Blewitt of Ballina Co. Mayo was a maternal great-great-grandfather of Joe, he came from a long family line of civil engineers and surveyors that left their mark on both Irish and US soil. His father Edward Blewett Sr. (1795-1871) worked on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (a world-first). He then worked on the General Valuation (aka Griffith's Valuation – a popular census substitute). One of his four children, Geraldine married Ambrose Finnegan, and they had a daughter called Catherine Finnegan who was Joe's mother.
Patrick Blewitt, born in Ballina, was the first of the family to move stateside in 1850, to become a sailor, returning a year later to bring his parents, brothers, and sisters to America. By 1860, the Blewitts had settled in Pennsylvania.
On the other side, Owen Finnegan, Biden's great-great-grandfather from the Cooley Peninsula in Louth, left for America in 1840. They worked the land and sea.
They settled in Seneca, New York in the 1850s. After Owen's death, his son James Finnegan, moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania to settle, where the Blewitts were and the two families met.