Show me an American President who wasn’t Irish? It’s tricky as half of all US Presidents claim to have Irish roots!
There’s a well-established tradition of Irish-American Presidents jetting across the Atlantic to celebrate an Irish ancestor who fled the Irish Famine to America. Remember 1963 when crowds in Dunganstown, County Wexford, mobbed JFK? Then there was 1984, when Ronald Reagan made a trip to Ballyporeen in County Tipperary and waxed lyrical about his Irishness. And don’t forget the 22nd US President to claim Irish ancestry - Barack Obama! In 2011 he touched down in Moneygall in County Offaly to sip a pint of Guinness with relatives of his great-great-great-great grandfather, the shoemaker, Falmouth Kearney!
When Donald Trump’s time is up in the White House, who will make the next best Irish-American President of the US?
Mike Pence, Republican
As Vice-President, Michael Richard Pence is a staunch ally of Donald Trump and, although he hasn’t declared his candidacy, if Trump isn’t in the frame for 2020 – or if he dies in office - Pence would step in. Given how it costs between $1 and $2 billion to run for president, being friends with the Koch brothers means Pence can rival any presidential bid in financial firepower.
Mike Pence’s grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, came from Tubercurry in County Sligo. The twenty-year old fled war and poverty in Europe and arrived in America via Ellis Island on April 11, 1923. He settled in Chicago where he became a bus driver. He married Mary Elizabeth Maloney whose family hailed from Doonbeg in County Clare – where coincidentally Donald Trump owns a golf course - and became an American citizen in 1941. Mike Pence was close to his grandfather, who was only 56 when he was born and died when Pence was in his 20s. Apparently, Pence’s grandfather - who he was named after – even taught him how to recite ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in Irish.
Of his maternal grandfather Pence said: “He got off that boat an Irish lad, he died an American, and I am an American because of him.”
Joe Biden, Democrat
The 76-year-old hasn’t ruled himself in for 2020 but neither has ex-VP ruled himself out!
A proud Irish-American, Biden’s great-grandfather, James Finnegan, emigrated from the Cooley Peninsula in Couth Louth in 1850. Indeed 10 of his 16 great-great-grandparents were Irish born, all forced to emigrate during the Irish famine.
While some contenders to the Presidential throne have tenuous Irish roots, Biden is the real deal, being five eights Irish! In a visit to Ireland in 2016 in his capacity as Vice-President, he said: “Over the course of my life, I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve traveled all around the world – more than a million miles on Air Force Two alone. I’ve been honored to have held a lot of titles. But I have always been and will always be the son of Kitty Finnegan. The grandson of Geraldine Finnegan from St. Paul’s Parish in Scranton; a proud descendant of the Finnegans of Ireland’s County Louth.”
Although he failed in presidential bids in 1988 and 2008, might his third time be lucky? For all his charm and political skill, if he won, he’d be 78 years old at inauguration.
John K Delaney, Democrat
John K Delaney’s ascent has been extraordinary by any measure. The son of a New Jersey electrician whose grandfather was a dockworker who came from Ireland, Delaney obtained scholarships to attend university and started two companies, both of which became publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange, only stepping down as CEO when he was elected Congressman.
Delaney was proud of his Irish roots and described his father’s Irish spirit when he passed on: “As a boy he was the strongest person I knew and would marvel at him always winning arm wrestling competitions, performing feats of strength for his buddies, and never backing down to anything or anyone.”
Beto O’Rourke, Democrat
Robert Francis O’Rourke, born in El Paso, Texas, came to national attention in 2018 when he narrowly missed out on becoming a US Senator to Ted Cruz.
With the catchiest of Irish-sounding names, he has courted controversy over his use of the nickname ‘Beto’, shorthand for ‘Roberto’ among Mexicans. Apparently ‘Beto’ stuck to him since he was a child and isn’t a cynical ploy for Hispanics to vote for him. But why did Beto call his own first child ‘Ulysses’? Was it really after a character in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ or might it have more to do with James Joyce’s opus ‘Ulysses’?
Beto’s father was El Paso County Judge, Pat Francis O’Rourke. His great-great-great-grandfather was Bernard O’Rourke, who was born in Ireland in 1832. Proud of his claim to being 4thgeneration Irish, it nevertheless seems that Beto has never actually visited the Old Sod! Is it a similar case of his nickname, ‘Beto’, sounding Spanish although he’s not? Hardly, because not even Donald Trump denies Beto’s Irish heritage, tweeting that “he’s an Irish guy pretending to be Hispanic”. The GOP were upbraided on St Patrick’s Day for making fun of O’Rourke’s Irishness by tweeting a mug-shot of him from his 1998 drink-driving arrest with a leprechaun hat and playing on drunken Irish stereotypes.
While Kanye West is likely to claim 100% Irishness, George Clooney will probably wait until 2024 to enter the fray and when his children are older.