The First Republican President in Ireland, Part 1: Ulysses S. Grant Tests the Emerald Waters

Candace Scott, Ulysses S. Grant Homepage
Ulysses Grant, taken in 1879

Ulysses S. Grant spent five days in Ireland, the 21st country in a world tour he launched after his two-term presidency. While generating enthusiastic crowds virtually everywhere he traveled, some in Ireland turned their backs.

By Scott Berman
Special to

Accompanied by Belfast Mayor John Browne, Ulysses S. Grant visited the city's enormous Harland & Wolff shipyard in January 1879, two years after the end of his second term as president of the United States. The Boston Globe reported that 2,000 workmen welcomed Grant, gathering around his carriage, with one yelling out "Three cheers for Oliver Cromwell Grant!"

Undoubtedly intended as a compliment in the Protestant-dominated yard, the comparison of Grant to the Puritan general would not endear Grant to Ireland's Catholics, who were weaned on stories of Cromwell's reputed slaughter of Irish Catholics in the mid-17th century. The incident underscored the sensibilities that Grant navigated during his five-day journey through Ireland, the first by a Republican president to the Emerald Isle.

Grant, 56, was then contemplating a run for a third presidential term, and, as presidential aspirants still do, was wooing the Irish-American voting bloc. After Grant's whirlwind tours of England -- highlighted by enormous welcoming crowds in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, and Manchester, and visits with Queen Victoria -- to increase his electability, he could not ignore Ireland.

The Ohio native faced an uphill task with these voters, many of whom emigrated to America to escape the ravages of The Great Famine and the indignities of British domination of their homeland. Many Irish in America saw Grant as biased toward Britain, as many today see another Republican president, George W. Bush, tilting toward the United Kingdom in Northern Irish affairs.

While Grant had some negatives as far as Irish-American voters went, in his favor, he had some Irish ancestry, which likely cemented his interest in making the visit. His maternal grandfather John Simpson, was born in Dergenagh, Count..., and immigrated to America in 1760.

As commander of the Union's victorious armies, Grant led tens of thousands of Irish immigrants, and such fabled units as Meagher's Irish Brigade, Corcoran's Irish Legion, Mulligan's Irish Brigade, and others, to ultimate victory. But at Cold Harbor and elsewhere in the American Civil War's final year, thousands of Irish gave their lives, leading some newspapers, typically Democratic and popular with Irish-American readers, to refer to him as "Butcher Grant."

As far as the bulk of the Irish in Ireland were concerned, though, Grant was a most welcome and notable visitor, and they welcomed him, as did virtually all locals did on his 27-country itinerary. A notable exception was Cork, but more on that later.

Grant was then probably the most famous American in the world. He had embarked on an unprecedented journey for an American statesman. Just after leaving the White House in March 1877, Grant traveled from May 1877 to September 1879. Ireland was the 21st country on his itinerary. After a leg of the trip that included Gibraltar, Spain, Portugal, Paris and London, Grant and his small party headed for Ireland before heading for India and the Far East.

Grant landed in Dublin on January 3, from London, with a stop in Holyhead, Wales, sailing on the "Wild Irishman," a steamer, on the regular mail route.

New York Herald journalist John Russell Young, who traveled throughout Ireland with Grant, depicted the ex-president's reception as friendly throughout. But Young, like Grant biographers more than a century later, glossed over the Ireland visit. Indeed, it was not all sweetness and light.

Library of Congress
Julia Grant

In addition to Young, Grant was accompanied by Adam Badeau, who was U.S. Consul-General in London and General Edward F. Noyes, American minister to France and a Civil War veteran who lost a leg in battle. Julia Grant stayed behind in England with the Grants' daughter, Nellie Sartoris, and her British husband.

Wasting no time, Grant started on a tour of Dublin the morning of his arrival, visiting the Royal Irish Academy; The Bank of Ireland in College Green, where Grant asked a lot of questions about banking and monetary policy; the Stock Exchange; the Chamber of Commerce, where Grant caught up on news from home with telegrams; and Sackville Street. He stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel, still one of Ireland's toniest lodgings. WGT



  • "The Arrival of General Grant," Belfast Telegraph, Jan. 7, 1879. p. 3.
  • "General Grant in Ireland," The Saturday Review (reprinted in The Belfast News-Letter) Jan. 13, 1879, p. 8.
  • "General Grant in the North," The Freeman's Journal Jan. 7, 1879. p. 1
  • "Gen. Grant's Reception in Belfast," Chicago Daily News, Jan. 9, 1879. p. 1.
  • "General Grant's Visit," The Belfast Morning News, January 8, 1879, p. 2.
  • "General Grant's Visit to Ireland," Coleraine Constitution, January 1, 1879, pp. 4, 7.
  • "Grant in Ireland," The Boston Globe, Evening Edition, Jan. 6, 1879.
  • "Grant's Progress," The Boston Globe, Evening Edition, January 10, 1879, p. 3.
  • McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981. p. 471.
  • Scaturro, Frank J., President Grant Reconsidered. University Press of America, 1998.
  • Young, John Russell. Around the World with General Grant. New York: The American News Company, 1879. Also, also edited and introduced by Michael Fellman, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. p. 186.

This page was produced by Joseph E. Gannon, with research assistance from Frank Scaturro and Gerry Regan.

Copyright © 2004 by GAR Media LLC and the author. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions

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