Last week, I looked at how Ulster unionists and the Scotch-Irish memorialized and celebrated their ties to American presidents. Find the post here.
Now let’s turn to visits by three US presidents to Ireland, Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.
ULYSSES S. GRANT
The first American president to visit Ireland was Grant, hero of the American Civil War, after his two rather tumultuous terms as president were over. While he wished to make a tour of the world as a private citizen, then-President Rutherford B. Hayes encouraged him to take a diplomatic role and attempt to strengthen American interests abroad.
Grant departed Philadelphia on his world tour in May 1877 and arrived in Dublin on 3 January 1879. He met with Lord Mayor, Sir Jonah Barrington, and was made an honorary citizen. He toured the Mansion House, Royal Irish Academy, Bank of Ireland, Chamber of Commerce, stock exchange, Trinity College, and City Hall, spending two days touring the city in total.
Grant left Dublin by train on 6 January, stopping in Dundalk, Omagh, and Strabane on the way to Derry. He did not visit his ancestral homestead at Ballygawley in County Tyrone. The next day he arrived in Belfast.
From the train-window, Grant saw a perfect sea of heads, which showed the eagerness of the people to honor the distinguished traveller. The platform of the station was covered with scarlet carpet. The Mayor and members of the City Council welcomed the General, who descended from the car amid tremendous cheers. Crowds ran after the carriages containing the city authorities and their illustrious guest, and afterwards surrounded the hotel where the General was entertained.
Belfast might be said to have been en fête, the public buildings were draped with American and English colors, and in a few instances with Orange flags.
– J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour Around the World (1880)
Grant viewed City Hall, linen warehouses and factories, and the Harland & Wolff shipyard. Grant then returned to Dublin and departed for Asia, finally returning to Philadelphia in December 1879.
Grant received a huge welcome in the north compared to his more subdued reception in the south. As Bernadette Whelan explains, this can be attributed both to his Ulster roots and to the policies of Grant’s Republican Party, which was associated with being pro-British, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay and you looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts. And if you did, you would see down working on the docks there some Doughertys and Flahertys and Ryans and cousins of yours who have gone to Boston and made good.
–John F. Kennedy in Galway
Kennedy’s visit to Ireland is clearly the most famous of any US president. As Tom Deignan writes, the trip “is now the stuff of legend. He met with de Valera and was greeted like a rock star.”
Kennedy came to Ireland as part of a wider European tour, including his infamous trip to Berlin. He arrived in Dublin from Germany on the evening of 26 June 1963 and was formally welcomed by Éamon de Valera. He then traveled by motorcade through the city to Phoenix Park.
Crowds line the streets of Dublin for JFK’s visit – photo credit: RTÉ
See RTÉ (Telefís Éireann) coverage of Kennedy’s arrival here.
The next day, he toured County Wexford, including visiting New Ross and his ancestral homestead at Dunganstown before returning to Dublin. On 28 June, he addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas, where he declared, “My friends: Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world–and that is a future of peace with freedom.” He also memorialized the Easter Rising and Irish participation in the American Civil War, received the freedom of the city, and visited Cork. On his final day in Ireland, Kennedy traveled to Galway and Limerick before leaving from Shannon.
Transcript of Kennedy’s speech before the Irish Parliament.
RTÉ has an extensive online exhibit of coverage from Kennedy’s trip.
Nixon arrived at Shannon on the evening of 3 October 1970 and stayed for two nights in Limerick. He and his wife, Pat, visited her ancestral hometown in Mayo, then went to the home of his Quaker ancestors in County Kildare at Timahoe where he enjoyed a positive reception.
I do proudly claim, as do almost all successful American politicians, an Irish background.
He toured County Kildare before heading to Dublin. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Nixon faced protests and even attempted eggings of his motorcade as he was driven through the city. He met with Jack Lynch at Dublin Castle before leaving Dublin on 5 October.
RTÉ Radio 1 documentary on Nixon’s visit
Nixon’s speech at Timahoe, County Kildare