When you think "Irish America" you think Catholicism in the U.S., JFK , St. Patrick's Day parades and Irish pride.

But Irish-American ties run deeper than one might expect on first glance.

For instance, did you know an Irishman was the first person to step off Columbus' ship and set foot on American ground?

Or did you know it was an Irish-American who was the first U.S. woman to walk in space?

IrishCentral celebrates Irish accomplishments in America, and presents to you 10 interesting, if not surprising, Irish-American facts.

1. An Irishman was the first of Christopher Columbus’ crew to step on American soil

There were several Irishmen in Christopher Columbus’ crew. But the one who stands out most is Patrick Maguire. In 1492, Irish-born Maguire was the first crew member of Christopher Columbus’ to set foot on North American ground.

2. At least 15 U.S. Presidents have confirmed Irish ancestry

It’s thought that over 40 percent of all American presidents have some Irish ancestry, but at least 15 of them have confirmed their Irish heritage. The “most Irish” presidents are Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan, both of whose parents were born in Ireland. To find out the rest of the “Irish” U.S. presidents, click here. (link to list)

3. The first American general to die during the Revolutionary War was Irish

It’s said by some historians that Dubliner Richard Montgomery, who first served in the British Army during the French and Indian War, but later joined the Americans’ fight for independence, is the first general to have been killed in battle during the Revolutionary War.

The Brigadier General in the Continental Army, Montgomery was killed in the Battle of Quebec during the 1775 invasion of Canada.

The U.S. has honored Montgomery in numerous ways. The Navy has named several ships USS Montgomery after the Irishman, Philadelphia has a statue of Montgomery in Fairmount Park and several schools in the country are named after the Revolutionary War general.

4. Three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in Ireland

A total of 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Of these men, 48 were born in the American colonies, while three of the eight foreign-born men were natives of Ireland.

These Irish patriots of the American Revolution are: James Smith, from Northern Ireland, a member of the Continental Congress 1776-1778, and a Colonel of Pennsylvania Militia 1775-1776; George Taylor, an Irish native and a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774-1776, and of the Continental Congress, 1776-1777; and Matthew Thornton, an Irishman who became a member of the Continental Congress in 1776 and Colonel of New Hampshire Militia, 1775-1783.

5. Irishmen helped build the White House

Not only did an Irishman design the White House, and model it after an Irish building, but the White House was built by the hands of Irishmen as well.

Immigrant laborers from various backgrounds were the chief builders of the presidential home. The Irish laborers mainly worked on the layering the bricks and molding the plaster of the building.

6. The White House has a twin in Ireland

Many people know that the White House was designed by an Irishman, Mr. James Hoban, but not everybody knows that the White House building has an Irish twin.

Kilkenny-born Hoban, who studied architecture in Dublin, is believed to have based his plan for the U.S. presidential home on Ireland’s Leinster House, the Georgian style home of the Dukes of Leinster that is now home of the Dail Éireann (Irish Parliament).

7. A blind Irishman composed the “Star Spangled Banner”

Though British composer John Stafford Smith, who was born in 1750, is credited for composing "The Star Spangled Banner,” the tune is actually based on music composed by the great Irish blind harper Turlough O'Carolan, who died over 35 years before the American Revolution.

The musician and singer is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer, but many Irish-Americans consider O’Carolan as the man responsible for their own country’s national anthem.

8. Ireland’s population was twice as big as America’s during the Revolutionary War

Today, Ireland is a tiny country – both in size (84,421 sq. km) and in population (5,915,267). New York City alone has over 8 million people – more than 2 million more than the entire island of Ireland. As of 2000, the population of the U.S. is about 60 times that of Ireland.

But believe it or not, at the time when America gained its independence, Ireland’s population was nearly twice as large as that of the U.S., and stayed that way through 1800.

9. An Irishman is the “father” of the Navy

John Barry, a Tacumshane, County Wexford native, is known as “The Father of the American Navy.”

Barry was appointed a Captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. He and his crew fought and won the final naval battle of the American Revolution off the coast of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783.

10. An Irish-American was the first woman from the U.S. to walk in space

Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan, an Irish-American from Paterson, New Jersey, is a former NASA astronaut. She is also the first American woman to ever walk in space.

Sullivan was a crew member on three Space Shuttle missions, and is a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

* Originally published in 2013.


Irish-American ties run deeper than one might think at first glance.