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10 U.S. presidents had Irish ancestors

Friday, March 17, 2000

By Ann McFeatters, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton partied into the night at the annual American Ireland Fund dinner last night, it wasn't just because he was receiving the Millennium Peace Award. Like millions of other Americans, he has grown to love celebrating his own heritage in preparation for St. Patrick's Day today.

Since he has been in office, Clinton has discovered that he has Irish roots -- one reason, he says, he has sought to promote the Northern Ireland peace accords with intensity. He is one of 10 U.S. presidents -- almost one-fourth of them -- who have had an Irish heritage.

According to Gary Boyd Roberts, author of "Ancestors of American Presidents," "American Ancestors and Cousins of the Princess of Wales" and two volumes called "Notable Kin," two of Clinton's great-great grandparents -- the parents of his great-grandmother, Hattie Hayes -- were born in Ireland.

Roberts also works for an Internet site,, the oldest and largest on-line family research site to help trace genealogies.

The United States had six presidents before an Irish descendant came to the White House. That was Andrew Jackson, whose parents, Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson, were born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. His father's father, Hugh Jackson, died in Ireland about 1782. His great grandfather, Thomas Jackson, was from Ballyregan in Dundonald, County Down.

James K. Polk, the 11th president, believed his great-grandfather, William Polk, came from County Donegal and that his great-great grandfather, Robert Pollock, came from the same county. Pollock immigrated to Maryland's Eastern Shore and changed his name to Polk.

The father of the 15th president, James Buchanan, was born in County Donegal about 1761. The mother of the 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, was the granddaughter of John Simpson, who was born in Northern Ireland about 1738.

The great-great-great grandfather of the 25th president, William McKinley, was born in Ireland in 1705 and immigrated to America. The grandfather of the 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, was born in Strabane, County Down, in 1787.

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, probably relished his Irish heritage as much as any president. His father's great-grandparents were Patrick Kennedy, born in Dunganstown, County Wexford, about 1823, and Bridget Murphy, born in Owenduff, County Wexford, about 1827. His mother's great grandparents were Thomas Fitzgerald, born in Bruff, County Limerick, in 1823, and Rose Anna Cox, born in County Cavan in 1835.

As recent books have shown, Kennedy and the 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, actually had a secret liking for each other, even though they fought each other for the presidency -- possibly because they shared an Irish heritage. Nixon was descended from James Moore, who was born in Ballymoney, County Antrim, in 1777. Another ancestor, Thomas Milhous, was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, in 1699.

The 40th president, Ronald Reagan, also delighted in his Irish roots. His great-grandfather, Michael Reagan, was from County Tipperary, immigrated to Canada and then the United States. Michael's wife, Catherine Mulcahey, was also born in Ireland.

The site has detailed charts of the various presidents' Irish roots and tells site visitors how to find their own Irish roots.

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