“Kennedy was the first Irish Catholic president,” adds Scoular, “but at least 12 US presidents have been found to be out of the Scots Irish Presbyterian stock from the northern half of the country. The Scots Irish emigrated in the seventeenth and eighteenth century from what is now Northern Ireland, mainly ending up in the US southern states. They were not in the main fleeing poverty, but seeking new opportunity and religious freedom.”
Scots Irish homesteads
There are three ancestral homesteads in Northern Ireland paying homage to former US presidents Andrew Jackson (the seventh president), Ulysses S Grant (the eighteenth president) and Chester A. Arthur (the twenty-first president). All are restored to their original condition and artefacts from the time portray the historical living conditions, but the Andrew Jackson Cottage in Carrickfergus, County Antrim is particularly tempting. It is the seaside location of the haunting and world-famous Irish ballad ‘Carrickfergus’ (I wish I was in Carrickfergus), has one of the most stunning Norman castles in Ireland, and is a good base for trips to the fabled Giant’s Causeway just a few miles away. The ‘Milhouses’ of Richard Milhous Nixon (the thirty-seventh president) antecedence also hailed from the Carrickfergus area.
The Grant Homestead meanwhile is in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, (Arthur’s is in County Antrim) and close to one of Ireland’s best open-air museums, the Ulster-American Folk Park. This very popular attraction celebrates the deep Irish-American links and brings to life the story of emigration, presidents and otherwise, from Ulster to America in 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. The ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ layout of the park dynamically illustrates emigrant life on both sides of the Atlantic.
Music fans should time their visit to coincide with the park’s annual Appalachian and Bluegrass Festival (September), which has become one of the largest bluegrass events outside of North America.
Many Americans choose to take grand overnights in the presidential suites of Irish castles and top hotels while tracing the Irish influence on their commanders-in chief and lapping up the top sights and experiences of the Emerald Isle. The presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, County Wicklow, near to Dublin, for instance, is one of the most prestigious in the country, while close to Shannon Airport, Dromoland Castle in County Clare is one of the finest castle accommodations anywhere. Period. Ask Richard Harris, Robin Williams, Angelica Huston, John Travolta and one President George W Bush, just a few of the recent visitor book signatories at this castle.