Famous Irish-Americans And Their Descendants Who Changed The United States of America

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America is a multiracial society with six racial groups recognized by the federal union. The Irish Americans forms up to 11% of the total population (survey by the US Census Bureau 2013) with the majority being residents of Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Irish Americans hold strong Irish roots, most often their parents or grandparents migrated in the 19th century during the potato famine.

Irish Americans moved to America in two significant periods. Some were ferried by the English colonialists to work in the plantations while women were sold to brothel owners. The second group moved during the great potato famine. Ireland was suffering terribly from food shortages, and the Irish people fled their country in search of a better life in the United States. They contributed to the US revolution in economic, political, and social and cultural fronts.

Let us have a look at the Irish Americans and their decedents who gained national and perhaps international recognition for their role in different areas.

1. John F. Kennedy

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Image Source: X Tech Blog

Immigration is not just compatible with but is a necessary component of economic growth.” – John F. Kennedy

Known for his tremendous strategic economic policies he made during his presidential term, JKF was a second born son of a prominent Irish Catholic family in Boston. The 35th American president barely served for a thousand days, he was assassinated only 3 years into office.  The first Catholic President was also the youngest man ever elected to office of President of the United States

JFK was the first Catholic President in the United States. Irish immigrants had come under intense pressure throughout their time in the US. Many were accused of holding allegiance to the Pope before the President, and for a long time, some states had laws prohibiting Catholics from holding office. The election of JFK was a sign that life had changed for Irish Catholic Americans, and the country in general.

During World War II, Kennedy led a group of survivors to safety after the Japanese sank his boat. He later joined active politics as a congressional representative in 1947 and became president in 1961 until his assassination in 1963.

Related Content: Immigrants Have Never Had It Easy In The United States 

2. President Barack Obama II

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“My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way,” – President Barak Obama on a trip to Ireland.

Being the president of the global superpower, President Obama has made many changes to the United States, some of which will have a long lasting impact for generations to come.

More is known about his African descent than his Irish origin. The focus on his African (Kenyan) origin is attributed to the fact that he is the first black American to become president. Research on his family tree shows that his great-grandparents were active in Irish politics in the 18th century. The ancient family’s leader Michael Kearney excelled in both the fields of business and politics, which made him influential in Dublin city.

3. Joe Biden

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Image Source: Epic Times

My dad always said, ‘Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.’ – Joe Biden

The 47th US vice president has been in active politics for more than three decades, first as the Delaware senator and later as the vice-president in Obama administration. The law graduate has been the beam behind the implementation of the economic and foreign policies during Obama’s time in office.

Biden comes from a Catholic family with deep Irish roots drawn from the mother’s side. His great-grandparents enjoyed a mixed ancestry from the French, English and Irish descents. He led successful negotiations with the Republicans for successful legislation and oversaw the US troop’s withdrawal from Iraq.

4. Theodore Roosevelt

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Image Source: Making it TV

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Theodore Roosevelt

One of the exciting facts about Irish Americans is that more one-third of the US presidents traces their ancestral origin in the Republic of Ireland. The 26th American president took office after the assassination of William McKinley. He traces his ancestral origin to the Ulster-scot migration when his ancestors moved to America. During his presidential term, Roosevelt described the Irish race as ‘bold’ and planned to visits his ancestral land on his retirement. However, his weak health condition deterred him from achieving the dream.

5. Henry Ford

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Image Source: USA Today

There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” – Henry Ford

Born in the mid-19th century, Ford earned his global recognition through the invention of the life changing Model T vehicle. From a mere engineer to a founder, his car models dominated the American market with more than half of all cars used in America in 1918 being Model T cars. His grandfather and father migrated from Ireland to the ‘new world’ in search of a better life and hence his great Irish descent. Ford contributions to the motor industry led to the establishment of one of the largest enterprises and famous brands in the world today.

6. Bill Gates

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Image Source: Daily Tech

 The U.S. immigration laws are bad – really, really bad. I’d say treatment of immigrants is one of the greatest injustices done in our government’s name.” – Bill Gates

When it comes to information technology, you cannot mention a computer without the word Microsoft popping up. Being the inventor and founder of Microsoft Corporation, he has earned himself the global recognition as the world’s wealthiest and most influential person for two decades. Being a prominent lawyer’s son, Gates traces his ancestors from England, Germany, and Ireland. His contribution to the computer industry and philanthropy contributions towards charity makes him an inspiration to the young generation.

7. Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise Receiving His Certificate Of Irish Heritage
Image Source: Irish Times

I’m very proud to be Irish. It’s wonderful. A great honour for me and I think for my whole family. I can’t wait to bring it back to them and also enlighten them on their history.” – Tom Cruise after he was presented with a framed certificate of his Irish roots.

With increased research on the American superstars of Irish descent, research by Fiona Fitzsimons linked Tom Cruise with Irish ancestry. His great-grandparents are believed to have moved from Ireland to the New Jersey where they settled in 1825. The Hollywood actor has enjoyed a glorious career in the art industry that has seen him collect more than ten awards in different categories for his remarkable performance.

8. Conan O’Brien

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Image Source: Abc News

There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”- Conan O’brien

The famous Irish American TV host, writer, producer, actor, comedian, and writer was born and raised in an Irish Catholic family. His talent as a writer began right when he was at Harvard University where he authored a comedy series “not necessarily the news”. His impulsive hosting style and incredible sense of humor have earned him recognition beyond the national borders.

Enjoy This Video Of Conan Visiting The Irish American Heritage Center In Chicago

9. Anthony Kennedy

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Image Source: Huffington Post

Democracy is something that you must learn each generation. It has to be taught.” – Anthony Kennedy

Known for authoring most of the general cases, Kennedy has always provided the decisive vote in most of the 5-4 court decisions. The associate justice was appointed to office in 1988 by then-President Ronald Reagan. Kennedy comes from an Irish Catholic family that excelled in American politics, business, and government. The most recent and popular of his rulings include the one that legalized same-sex marriages in the states where it was formerly prohibited.

10. Tom Brady

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Image Source: Newsweek

My father is 100 percent Irish. We took a trip over there together and visited some of the places where my family came from,” – “That was a great experience for me and obviously I am very proud of my Irish roots.” – Tom Brady

Widely recognized as Tom terrific, Brady is considered the best quarterback of all times in the national football league. The New England’s Patriot footballer earned his position after playing for the University of Michigan. Tom’s father is of Irish descent while his mother traces her descent from Sweden, Poland, and Norway.

11. Liam Neeson

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Image Source: Business Insider

Some mornings you wake up and think, gee I look handsome today. Other days I think, what am I doing in the movies? I wanna go back to Ireland and drive a forklift.”- Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson was born in Northern Ireland where his father worked as school caretaker and mother as a cook. Upon completing his college education, he sought for productive jobs and worked as a forklift operator for Guinness brewing company. Neeson began his acting career when he made his debut in the play “The Risen People”. He later found his way into some of the best-selling action movies such as Taken, the clash of titan Battleship and the A-team among others.

12. Bill O’ Reilly

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Image Source: Fox News

Whenever you get people in a working-class environment you get people who have a tremendous loyalty to their country, who are opposed to dramatic change. They don’t want it; they don’t know why it’s necessary. They have a strong loyalty to tradition. That’s still there.” – Bill O’Reilly

The famous political commentator and TV host boast playing a significant place in one of the most watched shows in America. O’Reilly is considered 100% Irish American with both parents tracing their ancestry to the Republic of Ireland. As a public figure, he acknowledges how his descent influenced his upbringing and ideologies.

13. Mary Harris Jones: “Mother Jones”

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Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit! I am not afraid of the pen, or the scaffold, or the sword. I will tell the truth wherever I please. – Mother Jones

The renowned labor activist began her career as a teacher and a dressmaker. Her involvement in the labor activism began while working for the Knights of Labor and the federal Mineworkers Union. She was born in the Republic of Ireland and moved with her parents to North America during the severe Irish famine. During her time, she was managed to stage demonstrations for the child labor laws and mineworkers’ rights.


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