Home of JFK ancestor is discovered in undergrowth

RUINS: Council workmen have uncovered what is believed to be the home of US president John F Kennedy’s Irish ancestors

Lynne Kelleher

The crumbling stone ruin of a cottage belonging to John F Kennedy's ancestors was unearthed last week by council workers clearing undergrowth to make way for a new path.

The remains of the ivy-clad cottage, dating back to the 1830s, are located outside the town of Bruff, Co Limerick.

While Kennedy family members such as Jean Kennedy Smith and Caroline Kennedy have paid visits to the birthplace of the Fitzgerald side of the family, this is the first concrete evidence of a surviving homestead.

The farmhouse was the residence of Mary Lenihan - one of JFK's great-great grandmothers - before she moved down the road after marrying her neighbour Edmund Fitzgerald in 1828. She gave birth to Mary Fitzgerald in 1832 but is thought to have died soon afterwards.

The paternal Kennedy connections in Wexford are well documented but the Limerick town is where the 'F' in JFK's name originated.

Local historians have traced back five generations of the Fitzgerald side of the family in the picturesque town which produced three of his mother Rose Fitzgerald's grandparents or three of JFK's eight great-grandparents.

The ruin in Palatine Road outside Bruff was hidden for decades by trees. The one-storey cottage has trees growing through the floors, but three walls with two front windows and a wood door survive.

Mary Lenihan's widowed husband, Edmund Fitzgerald, is understood to have emigrated to Boston around 1850 with his children - including Mary Fitzgerald, who was Rose Fitzgerald's paternal grandmother and the mother of JFK's colourful grandfather, Honey Fitz, mayor of Boston.

Michael Fitzgerald, a fifth cousin of JFK and who lives on the outskirts of Bruff, says he is delighted the homestead has been rediscovered.

"It's marvellous that we actually have some building from the 1830s. It's some record. There are very few buildings standing after 200 years," he said.

Local historian Declan Hehir pieced together the origins of the ruin by checking 19th-century land registries.

He said: "I looked up the Co Limerick Tithe Applotments from Bruff Civil Parish in 1833, and it has the Lenihan house there.

"I went back looking at the family tree... and realised it was Lenihan's house - and Mary Lenihan married Edmund Fitzgerald.

"I put two and two together that this was where Mary Lenihan would have had to have come out of."

Mark Nagle, chairman of Bruff Community Council, noted how JFK's ancestral home was discovered in the week when another Irish-American president was elected to the White House.

"It's ironic that the time the house is uncovered coincides with a week when the whole of Ireland is transfixed by the election in the US and a win for another Irish-American whose ancestors left just after the Famine as well," he said.