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Follow the Ancestral Trail of the Presidents

Leinster House Dublin photoPresident Barack Obama recently visited Ireland to follow his mother’s family’s Irish roots. He’s hardly the first. Ancestral researchers believe Irish heritage has flowed through the veins of half of American Presidents. John F. Kennedy is famously the most well-known. Many Dubliners know that the Irish Parliament building bears a striking resemblance to the White House in Washington DC. American visitors might do a double take when they come to the beautiful Leinster House in Kildare Street. The architect who designed the house of U.S. Presidents begun under George Washington, but first occupied by John Adams, modeled it on the Irish building. In an Ireland brimming with US presidential connections, Obama’s visit to Moneygall in County Offaly, joins the list of five other Presidents in living memory JFK, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton to have journeyed to Ireland. Other presidents of the past have also done so, though not while in office. For those who want to discover the trail of homesteads and birthplaces, events and attractions that tell the histories and stories of the US presidents from the Emerald Isle, blaze your own presidential tourist trail.

The Kennedy clan hailed from County Wexford in the southeast of Ireland, where the Dunbrody Heritage Famine Ship which carried Irish immigrants during the potato famine of the 1840s famine presents an opportunity to experience life on a voyage (see Dunbrody Famine Ship). Visit the town of New Ross and the Kennedy Homestead in Dunganstown where JFK’s great-great grandfather lived at before sailing to America to start a new life. The homestead offers an audiovisual presentation and guided tours, which takes visitors through five generations of the family history. The town’s annual JFK Dunbrody Festival in July celebrates the connection with the Irish emigration. Wexford is also the home of the father of the United States Navy, Irish-born Commadore John Barry, whose statue dominates the harbor-front.

Ulster American Folk Park photoKennedy was the first Irish Catholic president, but at least a dozen US presidents were descended from the “Scots Irish” Presbyterians from what is now Northern Ireland who’d emigrated earlier in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, settling mostly in the southern states and the frontier. Unlike the later immigrants who were escaping poverty and hunger, filling the cities of Boston and New York, the Irish who came during the Colonial period and the western American pioneer expansion came to seeking new opportunity for a piece of their own land and religious freedom.

Scots-Irish Heritage Homesteads

Ulysses Grant Simpson Homestead photoThere are three ancestral farm homesteads in Northern Ireland which pay homage to US presidents from history, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S Grant and Chester A. Arthur, restored to their original state with artifacts from the time to portray living conditions. The Andrew Jackson Cottage in Carrickfergus, County Antrim on its seaside is a good base for trips to the fabled Giant’s Causeway of Finn McCool (see Giants Causeway Legend) the rope bridge of Carrickfergus and a sampling of Irish Whiskey at Bushmills (see Old Bushmills Distillery) just a few miles away. The ‘Milhous’ ancestors of Richard Milhous antecedence also came from the Carrickfergus area.

The Grant Homestead in Ballygawley, County Tyrone (see Grant Homestead) also near the homestead of Chester Arthur’s family, are a short distance from the Ulster-American Folk Park, one of Ireland’s best open-air museums which brings to life the story of the northern emigration of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Costumed actors go about the historically authentic cottages, cabins, shops, Conestoga wagons and even an emigrant ship, offering tastes of traditional food and demonstrating Irish and American crafts (see Ulster-American Folk Park). Southern music fans might time their visit to coincide with the park’s annual Appalachian and Bluegrass Festival in September, one of the largest bluegrass events outside of North America. The music of the American south has its roots in Ireland.

Presidential Suites - Castles and Hotels

Dromoland Castle Golf Hotel photoEnjoy luxurious overnights in the presidential suites of Irish castles and top hotels while tracing the Irish influence on the commander-in-chief. The presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt in County Wicklow, near the magical glens of the Wicklow mountains (see Glendalough) is one of the most prestigious in the country, while very near to the airport of Shannon, Dromoland Castle in County Clare is one of the finest castle accommodations anywhere, hosting one president, George W Bush and a number of movie stars over its history (see Dromoland Castle Hotel).

Head east to the town of Ronald Reagan’s Irish folk, Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, or treading near Kennedy’s patch of ground you’d be close to the medieval city of Kilkenny, which like Moneygall is claiming a relationship to Obama. Kilkenny is the center of crafts in Ireland, follow the craft trail and discover a treasure trove of historical buildings and landmarks, exemplified by its famed castle (see Kilkenny Castle). Kilkenny is also the birthplace of James Hoban and well worth a visit is an impressive memorial arbor to him, naturally in white, erected by architecture students from the Catholic University of Washington DC and local craftsmen. For those who want to golf like a presedent, stay at the marvelous Mt Juliet (see Mount Juliet Golf Resort)

Family Genealogy Trips

Combine finding out about Irish-American presidents with your own root-searching family history or genealogy trips through online resources services in Ireland assisting visitors with their genealogical research (see Finding Your Irish Ancestors). Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel even provides a genealogy butler for guests. The Queenstown Story Heritage Centre in Cobh (pronounced ‘cove’) in County Cork features the story of over 2 million people who departed from Cobh during the Great Famine, making it one of the most important places to understand the Irish emigration to America.

Scenic Driving Tours

Explore the US presidential history on scenic driving tours (see Driving Scenic Ireland), staying in the country guest houses and B&Bs which dot the green lush landscape and narrow roads. A unique trip would be to follow the 5-day tour route taken by Ulysses S Grant through Ireland in 1879, from Dublin northwards to Drogheda near where the succesion of Ireland was settled at the Battle of the Boyne (see Boyne Battlefield) and Dundalk, and then to a circuit of what is now Northern Ireland, with overnights in both Londonderry and Belfast. Grant visited the historic Walls of Derry (see Derry’s Walls), and in Belfast he went to the famous Harland & Wolff Shipyard, where the RMS Titanic would be built and launched two decades later. Belfast is looking forward to 2012 and the hundredth anniversary of history’s most famous ship, preparing a number of grand celebrations. © Bargain Travel Europe

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