Irish Americans' Contributions to Our Nation

As each generation moves into the future, we must give all we have inherited to them. If we don’t possess the stories of our past, we must seek them—or what can we give our children to define who they truly are? If we only bring trivial legends, tales and media impressions of our heritage created by others, instead of our true history, we have nothing of value to offer those who come after us. And with nothing for them to pass on to their heirs, those stories that were left to us will be lost forever. 

America has been a mecca for Irish immigrants since the 1600s. They and their sons participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution. There were Irish Americans among the signers of the foundational documents of the United States: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In 1790, the first national census was held to count everyone and learn where Americans had come from. From a total population of 3.9 million, 65% were from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland—the majority was Irish. A little more than 19% were from Africa and the rest were from the Netherlands, France, Sweden or were Jewish with no homeland.

Though they started at the bottom of the economic ladder, Irish and Irish American insistence on education for their children paid off. By 1900, Irish Americans slowly rose within the working world and had jobs and earnings about equal on average to their neighbors. The yet there were still shanty towns in major cities.

After 1945, the Irish consistently ranked at the top of the social hierarchy and business world contributing to the shaping of America, thanks to their high rate of college attendance. According to the last Census, there are 34.5 million Americans who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That number is, incidentally, seven times larger than the population of Ireland itself. From their coming, America has seen 22 Presidents of Irish descent and countless CEOs of major corporations. The story of Irish America is truly one of the more remarkable success stories in the History of America.

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Language
State
Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

Alamo, The [Ancient Order of Hibernians] (February 23, 1836 - March 6, 1836) Historic Military Garrison /node/564843

The Irish National Flag stands in a place of honor inside The Alamo in recognition of the largest ethnic group to defend that icon of independence. Renowned Author, James Michener, once said The Irish gave Texas it's basic character. If Texas character is one of determination and bravery, then the celebrated scribe hit the nail right on the head. Irishmen and women have played pivotal roles in the Lone Star State . . . 

Andersonville Angel [Ancient Order of Hiberinans] (c.1802 - February 6, 1871) Irish Catholic Priest /node/564869

Rev. Peter Whelan, administrator of the Savannah diocese, distinguished himself as a chaplain for the Montgomery Guards, an Irish company in the First Georgia Volunteer Regiment, named for one of America’s earliest heroes—Irish-born Revolutionary General Richard Montgomery.  In 1862, The Montgomery Guards were bombed into surrender by Union forces and though he was offered freedom, Rev. Whelan chose to remain with the prisoners.

Antietam, Battle of [Ancient Order of Hibernians] (September 17, 1862 - September 22, 1862) Revoluntionary War Battle /node/564870

The bloodiest day in American history took place during the Civil War and the Irish had a major part in the Union victory that day. It took place at Antietam on September 17, 1862, and it was the victory that emboldened President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Foremost among Union forces was the Irish Brigade led by Irish-born Gen. Thomas F Meagher.

Honorable Brendan Francis Boyle [Friends of Congressman Boyle] (February 6, 1977 - ?) U.S. Congressman /node/565063

Brendan Francis Boyle, born February 6, 1977 in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA, is a Democratic member of the U.S House of Representatives. representing, since 2019, Pennsylvania's 2nd Congressional District. This district includes most of the northeastern fourth of Philadelphia. From 2015-19, he represented the 13th district. Prior to that, he was a member of the PA House of Representatives . . . 

Honorable Richard Joseph Daley [Courtesy of UIC University Library Special Collections and University Archives] (May 15, 1902 - December 20, 1976) Illinois State Senator and Mayor of Chicago /node/565025

Richard Joseph Daley was a six-term mayor of the city of Chicago (1955-1976) and the influential chair of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953 until his death in 1976. Described by one writer as “the most powerful local politician America has ever produced,” Daley also wielded state and national political influence during his terms in office.

Honrable Jefferson Finis Davis [Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.] (June 3, 1808 - December 6, 1889) U.S. Senator and President of the Confederate States of America /node/565028

Jefferson Davis’ life includes being a West Point graduate, a U.S. Representative and Senator, a Mexican War hero and a U.S. Secretary of War.  He also served as the only President of the Confederate States of America for which he was indicted for treason—but never tried—and imprisoned for two years. On October 17, 1978, a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter restored Davis' citizenship, effective December 25, 1868.

James Duane [Ancient Order of Hibernians] (February 6, 1773 - February 1, 1797) Lawyer, Jurist and Revolutionary Leader /node/564865

During the American Revolution, New York was totally destroyed and was rebuilt by the son of an immigrant from Co. Galway, Ireland. He was the first post-colonial person to wear the title ‘Mayor of New York’ and his name was James Duane. He was born in New York, then called the Province of New York, to Irish immigrant parents on February 6, 1733; a time when the Central Park was considered ‘upstate’ and a wilderness.  

Henry Ford [Ancient Order of Hiberinans] (July 30, 1863 - April 7, 1947) Founder of Ford Motor Company /node/564868

In 1846, a carpenter named William Ford fled his home in Co. Cork, Ireland with scarcely two Pounds in his pocket to escape the poverty of the Great Hunger. He sailed on a coffin ship to Canada with his eyes set on America. He stole across the border and settled in Michigan where he began farming. He married and, in 1863, his wife presented him with a son whom he named Henry.

Stephen Foster [Ancient Order of Hibernians] (July 4, 1826 - January 13, 1864) American Songwriter /node/564866

America's Troubadour of Song was an Irish American born on the fourth of July! If you said George M. Cohan, you'd be mistaken, for the title America's Troubadour of Song is reserved for another Irish American born on July 4. He was the Great Grandson of a Co. Derry emigrant who settled in New Jersey in 1725 and later moved to Pennsylvania. We’re referring to Stephen Foster.

Sam Houston [Texas State Historical Association] (March 2, 1793 - July 26, 1863) American Soldier and Politician /node/565022

Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793, the fifth child of Samuel and Elizabeth (Paxton) Houston, Rockbridge County, Virginia. He was of Scots-Irish ancestry and reared Presbyterian. His father died when he was thirteen, and in the spring of 1807, he emigrated with his mother, five brothers, and three sisters to Blount County in Eastern Tennessee, establishing a farm near Maryville.

Honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy [Courtesy of the JFK Library and Museum] (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) War Hero, Member of Congress, President of the U.S. /node/565030

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of his mother Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack. He was not a very healthy baby, and Rose recorded on his notecard [which she kept for each child] the childhood diseases from which he suffered, such as: "whooping cough, measles, chicken pox."

Honorable Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy [Courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum] (November 20, 1925 - June 6, 1968) U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator /node/565031

Robert Francis Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the seventh child in the closely knit and competitive family of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. "I was the seventh of nine children," he later recalled, "and when you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive."

Honorable Edward Moore "Teddy" Kennedy [Courtesy of the JFK Library and Museum] (February 22, 1932 - August 25, 2009) U.S. Senator /node/565032

Edward M. Kennedy, born February 22, 1932, to Joseph Patrick and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy in Boston, MA., was, at his death, the third longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate in American history, having been elected to the Senate nine times. He called health care “the cause of my life,” and succeeded in bringing quality and affordable health care for countless Americans, including children, seniors and Americans with disabilities.

Honorable Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy Sr. [Courtesy of the JFK Library and Museum] (September 6, 1888 - November 18, 1969) Entrepreneur and U.S. Ambassador /node/565035

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1888, Joseph Patrick Kennedy was the son of Mary Hickey and Patrick Joseph Kennedy, an important figure in the Irish community of Boston. Joseph grew up in East Boston and attended Catholic schools until the eighth grade when he was enrolled in Boston Latin School, a college prep academy in the Boston Public School system. Despite an aptitude for mathematics, his academic record was mediocre at best.

Honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Presidential Years [Courtesy of the JFK Library and Museum] (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) War Hero, Member of Congress, President of the U.S. /node/565029

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK was an American War hero, served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House and Senate and then elected as the 35th president of the United States, serving from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He was the author of three books, A Nation of Immigrants, Profiles in Courage and Why England Slept.

Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy [Courtesy Michael Hennigan, Finfacts] (November 14, 1908 - May 2, 1957) U.S. Senator /node/565026

Early summer, 1954, was a heady time in Washington D.C. In the weeks following the historic Supreme Court ruling against segregation in public schools, the anti-communism crusade of Irish American Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy began to unravel. Ten days after the dramatic humiliation of McCarthy on national television, U.S. Senator Lester C. Hunt shot himself—one victim of McCarthy’s witch-hunt.

Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy: Appleton's Hometown (Anti) Hero [asdf] (November 14, 1908 - May 2, 1957) U.S. Senator /node/565027

Jerald Podair, professor of history and the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies at Lawrence University, became interested in Joseph McCarthy in 1998 when he moved to McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. His views McCarthy’s story as a paradoxical mix of American triumph and tragedy began at that point. This presentation, titled  Joseph McCarthy: Appleton's Hometown (Anti) Hero, was made to the Appleton Historical Society, September 12, 2018.

Mike McCormack [Kevin McCormack] (June 8, 1938 - ?) Author and Historian /node/564962

Mike McCormack is a former columnist for the Irish Echo and feature writer for the Arizona Desert Shamrock, San Francisco Gael, Florida Irish American, Hibernian Digest, as well as St Patrick’s Monthly and Ireland’s Eye magazines in Ireland. He helped organize a Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and served as Secretary, Vice President, and President before his knowledge of Irish history earned him the post of Division Historian.

Robert S. McNamara [Friends of Secretary McNamara] (June 9, 1916 - July 6, 2009) Businessman and U.S. Secretary of Defense /node/565020

Defense issues, including the missile gap, played a prominent role in the campaign of 1960. President-elect John F. Kennedy, very much concerned with defense matters although lacking former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's mastery of the issues, first offered the post of secretary of defense to former secretary Robert A. Lovett. When Lovett declined, Kennedy chose Robert S. McNamara on Lovett's recommendation.

Honorable Sandra Day Day O'Connor [National Public Radio, Inc., author Nina Totenberg] (March 26, 1930 - ?) U.S. Supreme Court Justice /node/565023

From Triumph To Tragedy, 'First' Tells Story Of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Late last year, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor issued a statement announcing that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It was a poignant moment, a reminder that for decades O'Connor was seen as the most powerful woman in America. Now comes an important book about her . . .