The following was written by Sean Murphy:
Barack Obama's announcement on St Patrick's Day that he will visit Ireland in May once again draws attention to the number of US Presidents with Irish roots. The rise of Irish-America is underscored by the progressive increase in the number of Presidents with Irish ancestry, latterly including even those of Catholic stock. Thus while only 11 out of 28 Presidents from the institution of the office in 1789 until 1921 possessed elements of Irish ancestry, since Kennedy took office in 1961 every President bar one, Gerald Ford, has had some Irish blood.
The first US President with Irish ancestry was Andrew Jackson, served 1829-37, and as both his parents were born in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, he stands as the most 'Irish' of American leaders. Other nineteenth-century Presidents with elements of Irish ancestry include James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S Grant. It should be noted that these Presidents had primarily Ulster connections, reflecting the fact that the first great wave of Irish emigration in the eighteenth century came from that province and was primarily Protestant.
In the nineteenth century the millions of Irish emigrants to the USA were overwhelmingly from the other provinces and predominantly Catholic. Thus it is perhaps surprising that it was not until John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected in 1961 that a Catholic was appointed President. All eight of Kennedy's great-grandparents were born in Ireland, making him the most 'Irish' of Presidents since Jackson.
Given the relatively sparse nature of surviving documentation relating to poorer Irish families before the mid-nineteenth century, and the underdeveloped state of genealogy here, it should be emphasised that more detailed research needs to be conducted into the Irish ancestries of US Presidents. Thus it is not generally known that the link between Kennedy and Dunganstown, Co Wexford, is not completely proven, that Reagan's connection with Ballyporeen is merely highly probable, or that Clinton's descent from a Cassidy family of Roslea, Co Fermanagh, is based simply on wishful thinking. Ironically, the only US Presidents with definitely traced living (albeit distant) Irish cousins were George Bush Senior and Junior, who are related to the family of the late President Childers via the Osgoods of Boston.
On the other hand, President Obama's connection with a specific place in Ireland appears well documented. Via his late mother Stanley Ann Dunham, one of Obama's great-great-great grandfathers was the unusually-named Falmouth or Fulmuth Kearney or Carney, born in Ireland about 1832. Falmouth emigrated to the US in 1850, and his father was Joseph Kearney, a shoemaker of Moneygall, Co Offaly. Researchers have shown that the Kearneys, while of Gaelic origin, had converted to Protestantism and were relatively wealthy, a member of one branch even becoming Provost of Trinity College Dublin. Given that there are claims that Obama is descended from Luo tribal kings via his paternal Kenyan ancestors, there may be a temptation to say that he is also descended from Gaelic chiefs on his mother's side, but both claims are imaginative and outside the realm of documentable genealogy.
As a mark of honour, the Chief Herald of Ireland granted coats of arms to Presidents Kennedy and Clinton (but not as is often claimed to Reagan) in advance of their visits here. In the wake of the MacCarthy Mór scandal it was discovered that the Chief Herald, an official of the National Library of Ireland who had become entangled with bogus Gaelic chiefs, did not in fact have legal authority to grant arms, so that the arms of US Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, and Irish Presidents Robinson and McAleese, remain in a sort of legal limbo. While it is claimed that the Chief Herald has proper authority to grant arms since 2005 (this is challenged by some), it might be prudent not to continue the custom of granting arms in Obama's case, and indeed the Office of the Chief Herald has recently stated that such a grant is 'not under consideration'. In addition to a warm Irish welcome, presentations to President Obama might instead include an illustrated pedigree and collection of documents thoroughly checked by competent genealogists.