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US Presidents That Visited Ireland

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Posted 16/02/2019

Ireland has been visited by seven U.S Presidents, dating all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant in 1879.  The White House has been home to many men with Irish roots. The great building itself was designed by an Irish architect emphasising how intertwined the two countries are. 

Architect James Hoban was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny.  He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1785 and in 1792 he was summoned to Washington D.C. by George Washington to lead the design of the White House.  He would spend the rest of his life in Washington D.C. and he was involved in the establishment of many of the Catholic institutions in the city including Georgetown University and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Each of the President’s who have visited Ireland have come with a different story, each one leaving a different mark on Ireland’s history.

Ulysses S. Grant
Grant visited Ireland shortly after leaving his Presidential Office.  His trip to Dublin was included in his ‘World Tour’ which included stops in Germany, China and Russia.  He arrived in Dublin on the 3rd January 1879 and spent the next few days visiting Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy and the Bank of Ireland. 

However, he was not welcomed with open arms in all parts of the country. In fact his trip to Cork was cancelled due to protests by the Cork City Council.  They were upset about his involvement in the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothing group in the 1850s. 

Instead, he spent most of his time in the north of the island, taking time to visit his great-grandfather’s hometown of Dungannon in Co. Tyrone.

John F. Kennedy
The most famous Irish-American visited Irish shores in June 1963.  This was one of his last overseas visits as President as he was assassinated in November 1963.  This trip has been the subject of many books, documentaries and films.  He became the first acting President to visit the Emerald Isle and he was greeted in Dublin like a rockstar.

He had delivered his famous ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ speech only days before on his European tour.

The Irish leg of President Kennedy’s tour included visits to Dublin, Limerick, Galway and his ancestral home of Dunganstown in Co. Wexford. Many of the events over the four days were broadcast live on RTE, a first for the Irish national broadcaster.  He was also the first foreign leader to be invited to address the Houses of the Oireachtas, the home of the Irish government.

As the Cork Examiner noted in it’s pages at the time ‘When John Fitzgerald Kennedy set foot on Irish soil he made a mark on the history of this country that can never be effaced.’

Richard Nixon
President Nixon arrived in Ireland in October 1970 with little fanfare.  In fact, this trip was the subject of a 2010 documentary entitled ‘The Forgotten Visit’.

The Republican President made his first speech in Ireland while visiting Shannon, Co. Limerick, stating that he could ‘proudly claim, as do almost all successful American politicians, an Irish background’.

During his five day visit here he stayed in Limerick’s luxurious Kilrush Hotel, visited the ancestral home of his Irish Quaker family in Kildare and visited government officials in Dublin.

It was here in Dublin that his motorcade was pelted with eggs by anti-Vietnam war protestors. His subsequent fall from grace, catapulted by the Watergate scandal is more than likely the reason why this Presidential visit has slipped from Irish memories so quickly.

Ronald Reagan

President Reagan came to Ireland for four days in June 1984.  He deeply enjoyed this visit to retrace his roots stating ‘I feel like I’m about to drown everyone in a bath of nostalgia.’

While here he made a trip to the home of his great-grandfather in Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary. In this small village he was served a pint of Smithwicks in John O’Farrell’s pub before holding a cabinet meeting in the publican’s lounge. This pub was later renamed The Ronald Reagan and it’s façade can be found in The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton has probably had the most significant impact on the island of Ireland as any American President.  He has visited both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on numerous occasions and he played a crucial role in the Northern Irish peace process. 

His first visit came in November 1995, three years before his input into Irish and British politics led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

He is good friends with some of Ireland’s most well-known personalities including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, businessman Denis O’Brien and U2 frontman Bono. 

He has returned to the Emerald Isle many times since, most recently visiting University College Dublin’s Clinton Institute in 2018 to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

George W. Bush
President Bush made a short visit to Ireland in 2004 to attend the annual EU-US summit which took place in Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare. Although he didn’t have any public engagements while in Ireland his arrival was greeted by large protests in Dublin and Cork. A proportion of the Irish public were unhappy with Bush’s role in the ongoing Iraq War.

Such were the fears over the visit that nearly 7000 security staff were drafted in to protect the President and other diplomats for the 16 hour summit. He also came into conflict with the Irish media, cancelling an interview with his wife Laura which was to be broadcast on national TV. 

This came after RTE (Ireland's state broadcaster) ran a now infamous interview with George W. Bush on the night of his arrival.  An unflattering picture of President Bush was also published in the Sunday tabloids despite a government ban on press at the summit.

Barack Obama
President Obama visited Ireland in May 2011 on somewhat of a ‘pleasure trip’. He did engage in some official engagements while here however it is most remembered for a visit to his ancestral home in Moneygall, Co. Offaly. Here he met with another descendant of his great-great-great-grandfather, Oliver Hayes. He famously poured and drank his own pint of Guinness in Mr. Hayes’s pub.

He followed this up with a rousing 20 minute speech to a crowd of thousands in College Green, Dublin.  He concluded this speech with a call of ‘Is feider linn’ which is the Irish translation of ‘Yes we can’. His trip was cut short due to fears over the Icelandic ash cloud which was disrupting transatlantic flights at the time.
 
Obama’s visit has spawned some of the more unusual Irish tributes to American Presidents. The country now has the Barack Obama Plaza, a motorway service station turned tourist attraction just outside Moneygall and a song by the Corrigan Brothers that reached the Irish charts, ‘There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama’.

Other Notable Mentions 
Although his trip to Ireland was cancelled last November, Donald Trump has visited Ireland on many occasions before he became the 45th President of the United States. He owns the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co. Clare. The 5-Star hotel is recognised as one of the most impressive in the country.
  
Dwight D. Eisenhower served as President from 1950 until 1961. He visited Ireland on a family holiday in 1962.  He participated in one official function, a press conference hosted by former Irish President Sean T. O’Kelly. 

Here he discussed Ireland’s potential entry to NATO and the threat of nuclear war between the U.S and Cuba among other things. The largest suite in Dublin’s famous Gresham Hotel is named after ‘Ike’, the Eishenhower Suite. 

Joe Biden can trace his roots back to Carlingford, Co. Louth and he visited the north-east village while serving as Barack Obama’s Vice-President in 2016.  He is another well-known American politician who is very proud of his Irish roots.  He can date his heritage back to James Finnegan, who left Carlingford for New York in 1850. 

The man who is very likely to be the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 2020, Beto O’Rourke, has Irish heritage.  He narrowly lost out to Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race in 2018 but is expected to challenge again in next year’s election.  He is a fourth-generation Irish-American who has been dubbed ‘The JFK of Texas’. 

 
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