Did you know that there are 23 US Presidents that boast Irish heritage?
From Andrew Jackson (7th President) born only two years after his parents emigrated from Antrim to Joe Biden (46th President) who can trace his ancestry back to counties Louth and Mayo, the Irish diaspora punch well above their weight in terms of political clout across the Atlantic!
Andrew Jackson, 7th President (1829-37)
Parents from Antrim
Jackson was born in 1767 in the Waxhaws region the runs along the borders of North and South Carolina. His parents had left the village of Boney before in Antrim only two years previously. The village is now home to the Andrew Jackson Centre. The first Ulster-Scots president, he was known as ‘Old Hickory’ and was also a slave owner, general and lawyer.
James Knox Polk, 11th President (1845-49)
Great-Great Grandfather from Donegal, Great-Great-Great Grandparents from Derry/Londonderry
Descended from Ulster Presbyterians the Polks first arrived in Maryland in the late 17th century. They had previously held land and owned property around Coleraine in Derry and Lifford in Donegal. A proponent of the expansionist ‘Manifest Destiny’ policy, Polk was responsible for deciding the official border between British Canada and the United States and fought a war with Mexico to seize control of California, Texas and the rest of the modern day south-western US.
James Buchanan, 15th President (1857-1861)
Parents from Donegal and Tyrone
Buchanan’s parents arrived in Pennsylvania in 1783, four years before his birth. He is one of three US presidents who had at least one parent born in Ireland – along with Jackson and Arthur. To date, Buchanan is the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor. A career politician and former diplomat, he left office just before the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Andrew Johnson, 17th President (1865-69)
Grandfather from Antrim
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 Abraham Lincoln in April 1865 and led the government’s efforts to re-establish the Union following the conclusion of the Civil War. He also made history as the first US president to be impeached, though he was kept in office by the Senate.
Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President (1869-77)
Great-Grandfather from Tyrone
The celebrated Union army general was descended from John Simpson, a native of Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone who arrived in the USA in 1760. The 18th US president was also the first to visit Ireland, though it was after he had left office. He arrived in Ireland on 3rd January 1879 and would spend 5 days touring the island and was made an honorary citizen of Dublin and Derry. A noted war hero but a lacklustre politician his cabinet was rife with corruption and his administration was frequently ridden by scandal.
Chester A. Arthur, 21st President (1881-85)
Father from Antrim
Arthur’s father was born in ‘The Drean’ near Ballymena in Antrim and left for the United States 14 years before the birth of his son. Arthur ascended to the presidency following the assassination of President Garfield. Noted for rewarding his party loyalists with positions within the federal administration during his earlier career as Collector of the Port of New York he changed tack as president and sought to fill any vacancies through competitive exams.
Grover Cleveland, 22nd & 24th President (1885-89, 1893-97)
Grandfather from Antrim
Grover Cleveland is best remembered today as the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office. His grandfather left Antrim toward the end of the 18th century and would go on to become a book publisher in Baltimore. President Cleveland was also the only Democrat to enter the Oval Office from 1861 – 1913.
Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President (1889-1893)
Great-Grandfather from Antrim
President Harrison was a devout Presbyterian and like many of his predecessors as president, his ancestors hailed from Antrim. After a career as a lawyer and brigadier-general in the Civil War he served as a US Senator for six years before becoming president. At 5 feet six inches tall he is possibly the shortest person ever to serve as president.
William McKinley, 25th President (1897-1901)
Grandfather from Antrim
James McKinley, the president’s grandfather, hailed from Ballymoney, Antrim and arrived in the US around 1743. President McKinley led the US to victory in the Spanish-American War and seized control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. The 25th President was assassinated in 1901 while delivering a speech in Buffalo, New York.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President (1901-1909)
Ancestors from Antrim
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.
William Howard Taft, 27th President (1909-13)
Ancestors from Louth
William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States and the only person to serve as both President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Formerly a close friend of President Roosevelt, he grew distant from him when his predecessor became increasingly critical of his administration’s policies. His ancestor, Richard Robert Taft, hailed from Louth.
Woodrow Wilson, 28th President (1913-1921)
Grandfather from Tyrone
Wilson is best remembered as the president who oversaw America’s entry into the First World War and helped to found the League of Nations in its aftermath. In 1913 he became the first Democrat since Grover Cleveland to be elected president. The Wilson family ancestral homestead in Tyrone is now a museum.
Harry S. Truman, 33rd President (1945-1953)
Ancestors from Donegal and Tyrone
Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt when the then president died in office. The 33rd president was responsible for dropping the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and oversaw the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President (1961-63)
Great-Grandparents from Limerick, Wexford, Cork, Clare and Fermanagh
The most well-known Irish-American president, JFK was also the first to visit Ireland while still in office and the first Roman Catholic to be elected president. After Theodore Roosevelt, he was the youngest president to hold office and his life was tragically cut short when he became the fourth US president to be assassinated while in office during a trip to Dallas, Texas.
Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President (1963-69)
Great (x5) Grandfather from Galway
Johnson grew up in central Texas, not far from Johnson City, which his family helped found. A veteran politician, his term as president was dominated by the ongoing Vietnam War. His ‘Great Society’ programme allowed access to medical care to be expanded and in 1964, Johnson won the Presidency with 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history up until that point – more than 15,000,000 votes.
Richard Nixon, 37th President (1969-74)
Ancestors from Kildare
Richard Nixon’s mother Hannah was descended from the Milhous family, Irish Quakers from Timahoe, Kildare while the first Nixon to arrive in the US, James, left Ireland in 1731. President Nixon visited the small town in October 1970 during a state visit to Ireland. He is the only US president to date to resign from office following his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Gerald Ford, 38th President (1974-77)
Great (x4) Grandparents from Armagh and Down
Ford assumed the presidency following Nixon’s resignation in 1974, the first vice-president to do so in such circumstances. Once in office he attempted to deal with rising inflation, a sluggish economy and conflict in the Middle East.
Jimmy Carter, 39th President (1977-81)
Great (x4) Grandparents from Antrim
President Carter’s term as president was dominated by economic issues. He is credited with helping to create 8 million new jobs, reducing America’s budgetary deficient and negotiating the SALT II nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviet Union but a series of foreign policy set back towards the end of his term saw him fail to be reflected in 1980. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.
Ronald Reagan, 40th President (1981-89)
Great-Grandparents from Antrim and Tipperary
Reagan could boast at least three Irish ancestors, most notably Michael Regan from Ballyporeen in Tipperary who left Ireland in 1851. When he visited Ireland in 1984, following his re-election as president, he visited his ancestral hometown where they later named the local bar after him.
George H.W. Bush, 41st President (1989-93)
Great (x4) Grandparents from Down
A former senator and vice president, George H.W. Bush took office in 1989. He led the US during the First Gulf War and oversaw the end of the Cold War but would economic problems at home would see him fail to be re-elected for a second term.
George W. Bush, 43rd President (2001-2009)
Great (x5) Grandparents from Down
The son of George H.W. Bush, he was only the second child of a former president to then become president themselves. He led America during a transformative period dominated by the ‘War on Terror’ which he declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Barack Obama,44th President (2009-2017)
Great-Great-Great Grandfather from Offaly
The United States first African-American president, he is a descendent of Fulmuth Kearney an immigrant from county Offaly. A highly praised orator and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President Obama paid a visit to Moneygall, his ancestral home place, in 2011.
Joe Biden, 46th President (2021-Present)
Great-Great Grandparents from Mayo and Louth
Through his maternal line, the 46th President of the United States can trace his Irish ancestry back to counties Louth and Mayo. Pioneering research carried out by our partners at the Irish Family History Centre in 2016 revealed he is descended from the Blewitt and Finnegan families respectively. His great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt left Mayo in 1850 to become a sailor in the USA and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania while his great-grandfather, James Finnegan, born 1840, arrived in Ovid Township, Seneca, New York in the late 1840’s. A former vice-president under President Obama, Biden took office amidst the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/21.
At EPIC you can discover more about the 23 US Presidents with Irish Heritage and how they ended up taking on one of the most powerful jobs in the world. Our Leading Change gallery also features many world leaders, politicians, humanitarians and social advocates in many countries around the world. Visit our virtual tour here.