Modern US Presidents of Celtic Heritage
I was in Belfast, Ireland, for a cousin’s wedding when John F. Kennedy made his historic visit to Ireland in 1963. (I was a mere teenager.) Fifty years later, I was at Trinity College in Dublin when Michelle Obama’s visit was delayed a day. Therefore, she was in Belfast when I was in Dublin. You can bet I was struck by my timing, by the overwhelming warm Irish welcomes they received, and by what had changed for us all.
Over recent years, the grand Céad míle fáilte was extended to not only Kennedy, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of Irish descent albeit not Catholic. They also lifted a pint at the pub of their Irish ancestors.
A couple of years ago, friends and I stopped at a service station along the M-7 highway to find ourselves at the Barack Obama Center, Moneygall, County Offaly, hometown of Obama’s grandmother’s people. There is a lovely museum upstairs memorializing all Irish American presidents and chronicling their visits.
Of course, thousands of Americans visit the Kennedy Homestead outside of New Ross, County Wexford. The Irish were so proud when he was elected and when he chose to visit Ireland. My mother bought a beautiful cut-glass bowl by the Waterford Glass Company commemorating that 1963 milestone. You can bet I carried it home very carefully and now cherish it. Little did we know that his life would be taken a few months later.
The Fitzgeralds, Rose Kennedy’s people, were from Lough Gur, Bruff, County Limerick. A woman from there befriended me a few years ago to tell the story of Life Magazine and other reporters descending on their small community to dig up dirt on Kennedy during the 1960 campaign. With pride, she and later a pub owner told of subsequent visits of Kennedys to the area where Honey Fitz, Boston mayor and JFK grandfather, was born. My friends and I took it all in with pride and joy.
Clinton’s family ties to Ireland are less direct. But his role in Irish Peace and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 will long be remembered. The images of the Peace Wall in Belfast speak loudly to what an amazing feat it was to end the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. His statue as a golfer in Ballybunion, County Kerry, speaks to his popularity.
Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne McLeod, was an immigrant to the US from the hamlet of Tong, about three miles from Stornoway, the main town on the isle of Lewis, Scotland. So, he is of direct Celtic descent. During the last presidential campaign, I was there visiting the Callanish Stone Circle. A barman told me that reporters were “wandering about asking about Your Man, Trump”. I replied that he was not my man and, in fact, I was not a fan. I asked him what the locals thought of him. With a grin, he replied: “Aye, we say nothing bad. He gave money to senior care homes in memory of his mum.” After a short dramatic pause, he added “Of course, we say nothing good about him either.”
Trump has had red carpet treatment in both Scotland and Ireland when he was starting up his golf courses in Inverness and then Doonbeg, Ireland. However, the welcome has cooled noticeably in both places. I was just in Ireland in May to hear the Taoiseach firmly refuse to meet Trump at his golf course---no red carpet, just a meeting at Shannon airport.
The rest is yet to be written.