In celebration of the 4th July with our US partners across the pond our roots with the USA are deep, we have many presidential visits that date right back to 1879 and the most recent in 2011!
Ulysses S. Grant – 1879
The first president to visit Ireland was no longer president when he visited in 1879. Grant arrived in Dublin on January 3, 1879 and over the next few days, visited Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy and the Bank of Ireland. Speaking to a crowd outside of City Hall, Grant said: “I am by birth a citizen of a country where there are more Irishmen, either native born or the descendants of Irishmen, than there are in all of Ireland.”
John F Kennedy – 1963
When John F. Kennedy finally decided to visit his ancestral home in Dunganstown, Co. Wexford in June of 1963, most Irish Americans were thrilled. Not all, however.
“You’ve got all the Irish votes in this country that you’ll ever get,” Kennedy aide Kenny O’Donnell objected. “If you go to Ireland, people will say it’s just a pleasure trip.”
To which Kennedy responded: “That’s exactly what I want!”
However, JFKs trip is now the stuff of legends. He met with de Valera and was greeted like a rock star. In the weeks leading up to his trip, JFK planned a visit to his distant relative, Mary Kennedy Ryan, Mary’s cottage had to undergo numerous improvements prior to JFKs visit. Concrete was poured in the muck that surrounded the house and indoor plumbing was installed.
Richard Nixon – 1970
Nixon’s visit in October 1970 was dubbed as the “forgotten” visit. Nixon went to visit the Mayo home of his wife’s ancestors and then went onto spend 3 nights in Dublin.
As it was at the height of the Vietnam war, Nixon was greeted by protestors and his limo was pelted with eggs! Not all the crowds were against Nixon, many were blown away by his speech that he gave in Timahoe in Kildare.
Ronald Reagan – 1984
Reagan visited the small village of Ballyporeen in Co. Tipperary in June 1984, he visited the church where his great-grandfather was baptized in the 1850s. Some protestors voiced their dislike towards Reagans Central America policy and also the president’s tight relationship with British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. While in Ballyporeen Reagan visited John O’Farrell’s pub which was later renamed to The Ronald Reagan. The façade of the pub was later transported to The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California where it still stands!
Bill Clinton – 1995
Bill Clintons visit to Ireland in November 1995 was probably the most historic visit by a US president.
The first sitting president to visit Northern Ireland, Clinton granted Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams a visa in 1994 angering British Diplomats and Unionists. As a result of the troubles in the north in the 1990s there had been nearly 400 deaths so president Clinton was by no means intervening in a stable or easy situation!
After the Clinton visit, the IRA broke its cease-fire with the February 1996 Docklands bombing in London. But the slow, steady march to peace had been set in motion.
Clinton later returned and visited Omagh, the site of a horrific bombing in 1998.
There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had a part to play in helping Irelands divided community sit down together with the common goal of peace and equality.
George Bush – 2004
George W Bush’s visit in June 2004 can be looked at as similar to Nixon’s. Wartime tension was high again and Bush had an infamous interview with a RTE broadcaster Carole Coleman. Bush supporters felt that the Irish reporter did not allow him to answer her questions and cut him off numerous times which led to the cancellation of another RTE exclusive… an interview with the president’s wife Laura.
Bush’s visit lasted just 16 hours, he arrived to Co. Clare for the annual EU-US summit in Dromoland Castle. It is estimated that there were 7,000 security personnel!
Barrack Obama – 2011
Just like JFKs visit in 1963, Obamas visit in May 2011 was a ‘’pleasure trip’’.
As Ireland transforms into the 21st Century with its own assimilation of immigrants, it made perfect sense for Obama to come and trace his roots. At the same time as America elected there first black president it affirmed Irelands long standing ties to the US. Obamas famous line “For the United States, Ireland carries a blood link.”