By Pauline Murphy
In 1879 Ulysses Grant visited Ireland. Although his term as a U.S. President had ended, he was welcomed to the country with great pomp and ceremony … well, everywhere except in Cork!
In January 1879, a letter landed on the desk of Cork City Mayor, Patrick Kennedy. The letter was from Lewis Richmond, U.S. Consul, who was writing a few lines to inform Cork City Corporation that the former President of the United States was on his way to Ireland, and Cork was on his itinerary of places to visit.
You’d think a wave of excitement would sweep the Corporation, that plans would be made to hang bunting and get the Barracka and Buttera Brass Bands in tune for the arrival of such a prestigious guest, but the opposite happened.
When former President Grant landed in Dublin, he was warmly welcomed with a fine dinner and the freedom of the city. While Grant was being feted in the capital, down south in d’real capital, the City Corporation made it known that there were no plans to welcome Ulysses S. Grant to Cork, citing his support for the Know Nothing movement in the 1850s, a racist group opposed to immigrants.
The City Corporation also did not look too kindly on his opposition to federal funding for religious-run schools, namely Catholic ones, during his tenure as President.
There was also the small fact that Grant was a Republican and not a Democrat, which was the traditionally the party associated with Irish-America.
While in Dublin, it did not help the matter that Grant had toasted the British royal family while at a banquet there. Cork Corporation Alderman Treacy remarked, “It would be unbecoming for the Catholic constituency of Cork City to entertain such a man.”
Because of the blatant snub from Cork, Grant’s travel plans were changed at the last minute. Instead of boarding a train from Dublin to Cork, he instead boarded one for the north.
The Coleraine Constitution reported: “The warmth of the reception extended to General Grant in the north more than counterbalances the coldness of the welcome accorded to him in the south.”
The former U.S. President was well aware off Cork’s “coldness” and the Boston Globe reported: “On being informed of the action of the Cork town council, General Grant said he was sorry that the people of Cork knew so little of American history.”
In 1963 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy visited Cork City and he was warmly greeted by thousands of Corkonians, bucking the trend of frosty relations between U.S. Presidents and the Rebel County.