Andrew Jackson Homestead
Andrew Jackson Homestead

Northern Ireland and US Presidents: Discovering their Roots

Did you know that several of America’s earliest presidents have deep connections to Northern Ireland? Among them are Presidents Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson.

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Many of their ancestors were among the early wave of Ulster-Scots emigrants to leave that part of Ireland for America beginning in the 1700s.

All of them were Presbyterians, the descendants of people who came from Scotland to Ulster during what has become known as the Plantation of Ulster.

Those venturing to the New World left from ports in Belfast, Derry, Larne, Newry, and Portrush, with ships arriving in Philadelphia, New Castle (Delaware), New York, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Here is a look at the presidents who claimed Irish ancestry and some of the attractions you can visit that pay homage to them.

Andrew Jackson, 7th President (1829-37)

Andrew Jackson was born in the colonial Carolinas about 10 years prior to the American Revolutionary War.

His parents were Scots-Irish colonists who lived in the village of Boneybefore, County Antrim before they made the trip to the U.S.

The Andrew Jackson Cottage in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, among the attractions that relate to Northern Ireland and US presidents. Photo: Aubrey Dale, Creative Commons.

Jackson’s parents arrived in Philadelphia and made their way through the Appalachian Mountains to the already established Scots-Irish community in the Waxhaws, which is located along the border between North and South Carolina.

If you want to learn more about Jackson’s heritage, you can find it at the Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Centre in Carrickfergus, which is a free attraction.

The cottage is one of 12 built in the style that was popular in this part of Northern Ireland during the 18th century.

Visitors taking a guided ntour at the Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Museum. Photo courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland.

The original Jackson home was, unfortunately, torn down in 1860 to make way for a railway.

There is, however, an impressive exhibition on the president’s life and that of his parents.

Also on the grounds is the US Rangers Centre, a museum dedicated to the elite American Army unit of the US Rangers that was activated in Carrickfergus in 1942.

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James Knox Polk, 11th president (1845-49)

James Knox Polk was born in a log cabin in Pineville, North Carolina, the first of 10 children.

James Polk, whose ancestors came from Co. Derry. Photo: Mathew B., 1823 (ca.)-1896, photographer. derivative work: Superwikifan (talk) – James_Polk.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73532412

Polk’s family immigrated to America in the late 1600s from Coleraine in County Derry during the first wave of the Ulster-Scots settlement in the United States, living initially on the eastern shore of Maryland and later moving to south-central Pennsylvania and then on to the Carolina hill country.

Some historians believe that some of Polk’s ancestors were from County Donegal.

James Buchanan, 15th president (1857-61)

James Buchanan was born in a log cabin in rural Pennsylvania. Nicknamed “Old Buck,” the 15th president of the United States was proud of his Ulster background, calling it a “priceless heritage.”

a two-story house with a sign in front Northern Ireland and US presidents
The Buchanan ancestral home in Co. Tyrone. Photo: Kenneth Allen, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

While Buchanan’s father was raised on a farm in Ramelton, Co. Donegal, his ancestors also had connections to Omagh, Co. Tyrone.

The Buchanan ancestral home is what remains of their presence in this part of Ireland.

An interesting fact about Buchanan is that he was the only bachelor to ever serve as a US president.

His niece, Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston, served as his first lady.

Andrew Johnson, 17th president (1865-69)

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnson’s Irish connections point to Mounthill, near Larne in Antrim, where his grandfather set sail around 1750 for America.

Johnson became president after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.



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President Ulysses Simpson Grant, 18th president (1869-77)

Ulysses Simpson Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He not only served as America’s 18th president. He was also commander-general of the U.S. Army during the American Civil War.

President Ulysses S. Grant. Photo: By Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33527

While his paternal ancestors came to America onboard one of the first ships to the American colonies from England, his Irish ancestry comes from his maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson.

The exterior of the US Grant Ancestral Homestead in Ballygawley, County Tyrone. Photo: Dillon Osborne, Tourism Northern Ireland.

He left Ballygawley in County Tyrone for America in 1760, landing first in Philadelphia and eventually migrating to Ohio.

The original ancestral homestead of Ulysses Simpson Grant has been preserved and is open for visitors throughout the year.

President Chester Alan Arthur, 21st president (1881-85)

Chester Alan Arthur was born in Vermont. His father, William Arthur, was born in Cullybackey, County Antrim.

The Arthur Cottage and Interpretive Centre in County Antrim, the ancestral home of Chester Alan Arthur. Photo: Courtesy of Mid and East Antrim/Nick Patterson @Sync Imaging for Tourism Northern Ireland.

William, a Baptist pastor, is said to have graduated from college in Belfast and then left for Quebec around 1820.

An interpretive center located about four miles from the town of Ballymena is where you’ll find his ancestral home.

The restored cottage brings visitors back to 18th-century Ireland, with costumed guides leading baking demonstrations and other fun activities for all to enjoy.

President Grover Cleveland, 22nd & 24th president (1885-89 & 1893-97)

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in New Jersey but grew up in upstate New York.

President Grover Cleveland served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17195801

During his political life, he served as mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York.

Cleveland’s maternal grandfather Abner Neal, a merchant, emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s.

Cleveland is the only president to have served two terms with a break in between.

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President William McKinley, 25th president (1897-1901)

Born in Ohio, William McKinley was the seventh of nine children and a descendant of David McKinley who was born in Dervock, County Antrim.

President William McKinley, whose ancestors also came from Northern Ireland. Photo: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104596453

McKinley did not complete a second term as president. He was assassinated on Sept. 14, 1901, while giving a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

President Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president (1901-04)

Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City into the wealthy Roosevelt family.

a man with a mustache Northern Ireland and US Presidents
The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, also had Irish connections. Photo courtesy of the United States Library of Congress.

His mother, Martha Bulloch, had Ulster-Scots ancestors who came to America from Larne, County Antrim.

President Woodrow Wilson, 28th president (1913-21)

Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia.

His grandfather, James Wilson, emigrated in 1807 to North Carolina from Strabane in County Tyrone.

a white stone cottage Northern Ireland and US presidents
The Wilson Ancestral Home in County Tyrone, another one of the attractions that relate to Northern Ireland and US presidents. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

At the Wilson Homestead, a small thatched cottage in the Ulster American Folk Park, you can learn more about Wilson, who left this home at the age of 20.

The cottage contains some of the family’s original furnishings, including a tiny out-shot bed in the kitchen close to the fire (an alcove in the back wall), as well as curtained beds and a portrait of the president’s grandfather over the open-hearth fire.

President Wilson is known for his role in brokering peace at the end of World War I.

President Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th president (1969-74)

Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. He had Ulster connections on both sides of his family, all of them originating in Co. Antrim.

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President James Earl (Jimmy) Carter, 39th president (1977-81)

a man Northern Ireland and US presidents
President Jimmy Carter. Photo: By Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Naval Photographic Center – This file was derived from:  JimmyCarterPortrait.jpg:, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8791775

Jimmy Carter was born in Plains, Georgia. One of his ancestors, Andrew Cowan, was from County Antrim.

President William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton, 42nd president (1993-2001)

Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas.

His ancestry has been traced to Lucas Cassidy, who left County Fermanagh around 1750.

Former US President Bill Clinton has roots in County Fermanagh. Photo: By Bob McNeely, The White House. Creative Commons.

Clinton is known for taking a very active role in brokering the Northern Ireland peace agreement known as the “Good Friday Agreement.”

He made three visits to the province during his presidency.

Other U.S. presidents who had Irish connections include Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president who served from 1889-93; William Howard Taft, the 27th president who served from 1909-13; Warren G. Harding, the 29th president who served from 1921-23; Harry S. Truman, 33rd president who served from 1945-53; President John F. Kennedy, 35th president who served from 1961-63; Ronald Reagan, 40th president who served from 1981-89; George H.W. Bush, 41st president who served from 1989-93 and his son, George W. Bush, 43rd president who served from 2001-09, Barack Obama, 44th president who served from 2009 to 2016, and President Joe Biden, whose ancestors have been traced to Ballina in County Mayo as well as County Louth.

a bridge over a river Northern Ireland and US presidents
Ballina in County Mayo is where some of President Joe Biden's ancestors came from. Photo: Walsh Photos for Getty Images.

Have you visited any of the attractions mentioned above that relate to Northern Ireland and US presidents? Let me know in the comments below.

Read More: Discover Northern Ireland's Attractions

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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