Irish genealogy site findmypast.ie conducted an international poll and asked who are (or were) the world’s greatest leaders with Irish roots? I have one question: Who knew that Che Guevara had Irish ancestry?
The following was written by findmypast.ie:
Obama trails JFK, Reagan but trumps Che Guevara in vote for history’s greatest “Irish” leader: poll
Obama voted world’s third greatest leader with Irish roots, behind JFK, then Reagan: international poll for findmypast.com
Che Guevara ranks fourth; Woodrow Wilson, Ulysses S. Grant share fifth; UK’s James Callaghan, Australia’s Paul Keating, Canada’s Mulroney struggle
Barack Obama is one of history’s three greatest political leaders to have had Irish ancestry, according to an international poll.
John F Kennedy, however, is voted the greatest such leader, ahead of Ronald Reagan second and Obama third, in an online poll of over 4,000 Americans and Britons conducted by pollsters YouGov for the Irish family history site, findmypast.ie and its US partner findmypast.com.
Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary whose Irish roots are less widely known than those of several U.S. presidents, ranks fourth.
“The most surprising people turn out to have Irish ancestry”, says Cliona Weldon, spokesperson for findmypast.ie, which commissioned the poll to mark the site’s first birthday this month.
The findmypast poll asked respondents in the U.S. and UK to pick from a list of 10 political leaders who had won prominence in countries other than Ireland or Northern Ireland – in short, in the Irish diaspora.
This diaspora, consisting of Irish emigrants and their descendants, is estimated to include over 80 million people, or over a dozen times the 6.4 million who currently inhabit the island of Ireland itself. Some 40 million Americans alone classify themselves as of Irish ancestry.
While Obama and JFK polled similar percentages with U.S. and UK respondents, averaging 12% and 25% respectively, Reagan polled nearly four times as many votes in the U.S. (35%) as in the UK (8%). Indeed, he would have topped the poll based on U.S. votes alone, while the UK alone ranked him third behind Obama.
Obama, who only discovered his Irish roots in 2007, is just one of at least 13 U.S. presidents to have had Irish ancestry. Indeed, the only one of the last six to have lacked them was Bill Clinton, who tried to atone for the fact by once famously informing a St Patrick’s Day gathering that, “I feel more Irish every day!”
The Irish diaspora is concentrated in the likes of US, UK, Canada and Australia but also takes in parts of both South America and continental Europe.
America is far from the only land to have boasted notable leaders with Irish ancestry. Others include the UK (James Callaghan, Prime Minister, 1976-9), Australia (Paul Keating, 24th PM, 1991-96), Canada (Brian Mulroney, 18th PM, 1984-93) and even Chile (Bernardo O’Higgins, leader, 1817-1823).
Che Guevara, the Argentine-born radical who led revolutions in Bolivia and Cuba, may be best known today as an icon of Latin American revolution and counter-cultural chic. However, his father’s last name was “Lynch”, while his family traced its ancestry back to Patrick Lynch, an emigrant to Argentina from Galway, Ireland in the 1740s. “The first thing to note”, Che’s father once commented, “is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels.”
Other countries to have had political leaders with Irish heritage include France, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Israel and even the South Pacific territory of Tokelau.
Many of the earlier American presidents with Irish heritage traced their roots to Scots Irish Presbyterians who migrated in the 17th and 18th centuries to what is now the U.S. from what is now Northern Ireland.
JF Kennedy is the still the only Catholic to have become U.S. President. Like Reagan, he traced his Irish roots to the great wave of Irish Catholic emigration that began properly in the mid-19th century, coinciding with the great Famine.
JFK’s paternal great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy came from Dunganstown in Co. Wexford, Ireland, while his maternal great-grandfather, Thomas Fitzgerald hailed from Bruff, County Limerick. Reagan’s great-grandfather, Michael Reagan, emigrated from Ballyporeen in Co. Tipperary in 1858.
By then, Barack Obama’s Irish forebear, Falmouth Keaney, had already been in the U.S. for eight years, after migrating them from Moneygall in Co. Offaly in 1850. Keaney was Obama’s maternal great-great-great grandfather.
Only last year, Fiona Fitzsimons, an Irish historian and director of findmypast.ie, identified Obama’s closest living Irish relatives, in Ballygurteen, Co. Tipperary. This enabled Obama to meet them during his state visit to Ireland last year.
“Obama is descended from that ‘lost tribe of Ireland’ – Southern Episcopalians”, says Fitzsimons. “This group once comprised 20% of the Irish population but nowadays barely gets a footnote in Irish history. Its members left Ireland by choice and assimilated where they settled. There are many international figures in history down to the present day whose Irish origins are as overlooked as Obama’s were until recently.”
Question. The political leaders in the list below all had or have Irish ancestry of some kind. Which ONE of the people in this list would you consider to be/have been the greatest political leader?
(% US only)
(% UK only)
JF Kennedy (U.S.)
Ronald Reagan (U.S.)
Barack Obama (U.S.)
Che Guevara (Bolivia, Cuba)
Woodrow Wilson (U.S.)
Ulysses S. Grant
James Callaghan (UK)
Paul Keating (Australia)
Bernardo O’Higgins (Chile)
Brian Mulroney (Canada)
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov plc
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Poll methodology: The figures quoted are averages of the responses given to polls conducted the same week in the US and UK respectively. The two polls asked the same question of similar sample sizes.
US methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2024 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 17th May 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).
UK methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size in the UK was 2711 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 16th May 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).