Notes on the Irish Ancestry of President Ronald Reagan
by R. Andrew Pierce
Over the past few years, this researcher has investigated both the
purported origins of the President's great-grandfather, Michael
Regan (alleged to be from the Parish of Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary); and
Michael Regan's American family and relatives in an effort to gather
more concrete evidence as to his family and their Irish origins.
Michael F. Pollock penned an excellent article, The Genealogy of Ronald
Wilson Reagan, which appeared in Issue #34 of
Heritage Quest Magazine,
May/June issue, 1991. It was based on research "initially commissioned
by the National Enquirer newspaper in June, 1980." Mr. Pollock reviewed
Michael Reagan's marriage record to Catherine Mulcahy in 1852
(which stated that Michael's father's name was Thomas), and the
births of two of their children in England in the 1850s; and census and
probate records consulted in Illinois, tracing the family for another
two generations. The article is well footnoted with documented sources.
Mr. Pollock noted some details of the families of Nicholas and John,
from census and cemetery records.
Michael Regan's mother's name is not listed on any document. But since
Irish immigrant tradition was to name the eldest son and daughter after
the husband's father and mother, respectively, and Michael named his
oldest son Thomas (after his father), it follows that his mother's
name was likely Margaret. The fact that Nicholas and John Regan of
Fair Haven, believed to be Michael's brothers, also named THEIR eldest
daughters Margaret, strengthens this theory. The same line of reasoning
was followed by the research team that investigated the Regans' origins
When the original research was done on President Reagan's family in
Ireland in 1980, presumably searches of all Catholic parish registers in
County Tipperary were made. I have not seen any of the original research
firsthand. A list of Catholic registers for Tipperary in James Ryan's
shows that out of 53 Catholic parish registers for Co.
Tipperary, 13 begin after 1831, 22 begin after 1825 and 27 begin 1820 or
after. This is important when we understand that Michael Regan's baptism
could have taken place anytime between 1823 and 1830.
Alma Imhoff Lauritsen's article Michael Reagan Puts Down Roots in
Illinois draws on the original research done in Ireland, which found
the following five children born to Thomas (sometimes called Regan,
sometimes O'Regan) and Margaret (Murphy) and baptized in the Catholic
parish of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary:
Then as now, Catholic children were usually baptized within a few weeks
of their births. Lauritsen says that the family "lived in the vicinity
of Doolis ... just west of Ballyporeen." The smallest civil division in
Ireland is the townland, of which there are several contained within the
next largest division, the civil parish which is roughly akin to a
township. A Catholic parish church often served more than one civil parish.
- Elena (Ellen), baptized 5 July 1819
- John, baptized 24 June 1821
- Margaret, baptized 29 October 1823
- Elizabeth, baptized 13 September 1826
- Michael, baptized 3 September 1829
The Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland
Doolis as a townland of 228 acres within the civil parish of
Templetenny, which was served by the Catholic church of Ballyporeen,
which is the largest market town in that area.
Presumably, one or more of the Regan baptisms listed Doolis as the
family's townland of residence (early Catholic registers in Ireland often
did not list a townland at all). Ryan's Irish Records
Ballyporeen began registering baptisms in November 1817, and baptisms in
January 1818. So Thomas and Margaret's marriage, and baptisms of any
older children, would not appear in these registers.
Although some sources question whether the surname given for Michael,
born 1829, was Regan or Ryan, probably some or all of the other four
children found in the search bore the definite surname 'Regan.'
The only other source available for this area before Griffith's
Valuation is the
Tithe Applotment Book, another tax survey taken from
the early 1820s to the early 1830s. This was not, however, a
comprehensive list of all householders as Griffith's was; the Tithe
books omitted urban dwellers and very poor farmers, or cottiers, who
were not liable to pay. Still other farmers refused to pay the tithe, or
it was paid by their landlord, or by one leading farmer in a townland on
behalf of the others. No Regans/O'Regans were found in Doolis in the
1825 Tithe book, but we know from the Ballyporeen parish registers that
they did live there.
completed for County Tipperary about 1850, does
not show a Thomas Regan or O'Regan In Templetenny parish. This is
consistent with Michael Regan's father being dead by 1852 as his
marriage record stated, but Thomas could also have moved to another
parish or emigrated. There was a Margaret Regan in the townland of
Knocknagapple, Templetenny parish; this townland is next to
Doolis, on Ordnance Survey Map No. 86.
No followup has apparently been done in the
Valuation, which was kept
continuously for every year after 1850, to determine who succeeded
Margaret as holder of this land, or when they did so. Nor have searches
been conducted in the Ballyporeen parish registers, apparently, to
determine if any members of the Regan family of Doolis remained there to
marry, have children baptized, or die.
The 1851 census of Peckham, Parish of Camberwell, County of Surrey,
England, District 8 shows as household #69, Michael Regan, soap maker,
age 21, born "Ireland, Tipperary". On the same page, James & Ann Tobin,
Catherine Kahill, Margaret Brady and Mary Brien were also born in
Household #81 in the same district contained Catherine Mulcahey, age 26,
a gardener's laborer, born Tipperary, Ireland. No others were living with
either Michael or Catherine. Denis Whelan, Ann Fahely, John Linahan or
Joanna Pleasy, later sponsors to the Regans' children, were not found
in this district in 1851; nor was
Michael's presumed brother Nicholas Regan/O'Regan.
On 31 Oct. 1852 at St. George's Roman Catholic church in Southwark,
Michael (the civil record gives surname as Reagan, the church record as
Regan) married Catherine Mulcahey. Witnesses were Nicholas Regan and
Mary Bryan. Michael was age 21 or 26, a laborer, residence 1 Finley St.,
son of Thomas, a laborer, deceased. Catherine was 22, residence 5 or
8 (?) Begley St., daughter of Patrick, a laborer, still living. The
baptisms of two children were found at St. George's:
At first glance, one would assume that Thomas Regan was born almost six
months before his parents' marriage. However, the archivist for St.
George's Cathedral, who provided the above records to me, stated that
"as marriage in the Catholic church was not recognised by the State, it
is possible that Michael and Catherine were married earlier in the
Church of England." No search has as yet been undertaken in those church
- Thomas Regan, born 15 May, bapt. 16 May 1852, sponsors
Denis Whelan and Ann Fahely
- John Regan, born 29 May, bapt. 4 June 1854, sponsors
John Linahan and Joanna Pleasy
The Reagan family tradition also holds that Catherine Mulcahy was from
County Tipperary, and Edward MacLysaght's
The Surnames of Ireland also
shows that the Mulcahys were most commonly found in Tipperary and
adjacent counties. The index to Griffith's Valuation,
a tax survey
taken (for Tipperary) ca. 1850, shows fifteen Patrick Mulcahys in fourteen
different parishes, all over the county. We know that Catherine's father
Patrick was living when she married in 1852, but we do not know if he
was still living in Ireland or whether he had also emigrated.
One of the Patrick Mulcahys in Tipperary ca. 1850 was in the townland of
Skeheenaranky, Parish of Templetenny, which is on Ordnance Survey map
86, the same map as Doolis and Knocknagapple (see above). A search should
be undertaken in the Ballyporeen registers to determine if a Catherine
Mulcahy was born to a Patrick Mulcahy in this parish ca. 1830.
Frequently, Irish immigrant couples who married abroad knew each other
back in Ireland.
The passenger list of the Joseph Gilchrist which arrived at New York
from Liverpool 28 Nov. 1857 (re.
Birthplaces for all are given as "Ireland".
- Michael Regan, 27
- Catherine Regan, 30
- Thomas, John & Margaret Regan, ages not given
The 1860 census of Carroll, County, Illinois, household #1243, shows
Michael "Reigan", age 25, a farmer, value of real estate $1120.00, of
personal estate $150.00. He and wife Catherine, age 30, were born in
Ireland. Children, the first three born in England, the fourth in
Illinois, were Thomas age 7, John age 5, Margaret age 3 and William age
1. Also in the household were Nicholas Reigan, age 35, and John P.
Reigan, age 30, both farm laborers, born Ireland, with no real or
"Michael Ragan" made a declaration of intention for naturalization to
the Carroll County Circuit Court, 6 March 1866. The 1870 census of Fair
Haven, Carroll Co. Illinois (p.13) shows Michael Reagan, age 47, farmer,
value of real estate $3000, of personal estate $850, a voter; wife
Catharine, age 49 or 39, both born Ireland; children Thomas, 18, John,
16 and Maggie, 13, all born England; William age 11 and Mary, 5, both
The 1878 History of Carroll County, Illinois
(Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co.,
Times Building, 1878) contains a directory of townships including Fair
Haven. John, Michael and Thomas Reagan were farmers in Section 21; John
Reagan was a farmer in Section 22, and N. Reagan was a farmer in Section 23.
The 1880 census of Fair Haven shows "Marshel" (sic) Ragan, 55, with
Kathrine age 50, both born Ireland; children Magie, 24, born England;
William, 21, and Mary, 15, both born Illinois.
Michael Regan died shortly before 10 March 1884, when the Carroll County
probate court issued a warrant to appraise his estate. There was no
civil death record. His marriage record, passenger list, and census
records, place his approximate birth date as probably being between 1823
Michael's presumed brother Nicholas Regan was still living in or near
Southwark in 1852, when he witnessed Michael's marriage. Thus far he has
not been found on any U.S. passenger list. Nicholas Ragan made intention
to become a naturalized citizen before the Carroll County Circuit Court,
11 April 1859. He was living with Michael Regan at Fair Haven in 1860,
The 1870 census of Fair Haven, family #149, shows "Michael" (sic) Reagan,
age 55(?), a farmer, value of real estate $5000, born Ireland, a legal
voter. With him was Bridget, age 40 (both born Ireland); children, the
eldest two born in Ohio and the youngest three born in Illinois, were
Margaret, 8, Thomas, 5, John, 4, Ellen, 3 and William, 10 months. Also
in the household was William O'Brien, age 20.
The 1880 census of Fair Haven shows Nickolas Ragun, 60, a farmer, with
wife Maria age 42, both born Ireland. Children, the eldest two born
Ohio, the younger three in Illinois, were Maggie, 18, Thomas, 17, John,
15, Ellen, 12 and Marshel, 6. Nicholas' date of death is thus far not
known, but his tombstone in the Fulton County (Illinois) Catholic Cemetery
gives his date of birth as 1812, while the three census records we have
make it between 1815 and 1825. His daughter Ellen, born 1868, was also
buried in the Fulton Catholic Cemetery in February, 1887.
It would be worthwhile to look at other Regan burials in this cemetery;
the DAR Library in Washington D.C. holds a typescript transcription.
Although Michael's presumed brother, John, was listed in his 1860
household, he appears to have been listed twice, the second listing with
his own family. The 1860 census of Fairhaven, household #1258, shows
John Reigan, 35, a farm laborer, value of real estate $280, of personal
estate $350; Bridget age 30, both born Ireland; Margaret, 6 and Ellen,
2, both born Illinois.
Declarations of intention to become a naturalized citizen were made
before the Carroll County Circuit Court by John Ragan and John Regan,
both on 25 March 1857 (perhaps but not necessarily the same individual;
they were recorded in different volumes), and by John Regan on 8 March 1865.
The Illinois Statewide Marriage Index
shows that in Carroll County,
John Reagan married Eliza Daly 10 January 1863; and John Regan married
Mrs. Frances Murry, 29 June 1867. It appears, from the naturalization
records, that there may well have been more than one John Re(a)gan in
Fair Haven in the 1860s. But I have identified the man who was at
Fairhaven in 1860 with wife Bridget and two daughters (who may or may not
have been the same man listed as living with Michael Regan WITHOUT a
family in 1860) as being the same who appears there in 1870 and was at
Sharon, Iowa in 1880.
The 1870 census of Fair Haven, Carroll Co., Illinois shows John "Reago",
age 50(?), farmer, value of real estate $2000, of personal estate $60; a
voter, born Ireland. With him, all bearing the same "Reago" surname,
were Frances age 34, born Mississippi; Helen age 12, born Illinois, and
William age 12, born Mississippi (neither of William's parents were "of
foreign birth"; this, his birthplace and age suggest that he was John's
stepson, not his son).
The 1880 census of Sharon, Audubon County, Iowa shows John Ragan, 63, a
farmer, born Ireland; wife "Francis", 44, born Mississippi;
Maggie, 24, Ella, 22 and John, 8, all born Illinois.
Steve Jensen checked the WPA Cemetery records for Audubon County and
found only one Regan, etc. entry before 1935: "Ella Regan, born
5/22/1858, died- 1/14/1888; buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Block 5,
Lot 5 (Daughter of J. and B. Regan)."
So, we know that John Re(a)gan, born say 1820-25 in Ireland, who may or
may not have been Thomas' brother, married (1) say 1852, Bridget ------
and had two daughters, both born in Illinois: Margaret, born ca. 1854,
living 1880; and Ellen/Ella (1858-1888). John was living in Fair Haven,
Carroll Co. IL by 1860. He married there (2) or (3)Frances (-----) Murray,
a widow, in 1867; was living there in 1870;
had a son John born ca. 1872
in Illinois; and by 1880 had moved to Sharon, Audubon Co., Iowa where
daughter Ella died in 1888, but no further record is found of John.
Searches of land records should be undertaken in Carroll County,
Illinois to determine when Michael, Nicholas and John Regan first bought
land there. An 1855 state census was taken for Illinois, but apparently
Carroll County is missing; there is no listing for it in the Family
History Library catalogue. At the National Archives in Washington I
checked Civil War draft records for all three (these registers sometimes
give counties of birth in Ireland), but they were not listed; this may
have been because their American citizenships were not yet finalized.
It would also be worthwhile to obtain church marriage records for
Nicholas and John Regan, and baptism records for their children and
Michael's, for names of sponsors (godparents) who might be relatives.
This would also strengthen the probably connection between the three, if
they sponsored each others' children.
There was no Catholic church in Carroll County during the 1850s, and I
have not ascertained which parish may have served its Catholic
community. However, a query to St. Michael's parish in Galena, Jo
Daviess Co. Illinois, which dates from 1832, yielded negative results as
to any children of John or Michael Regan (did not ask for Nicholas').
Similar queries to Immaculate Conception in Fulton, Whiteside Co. (1863),
St. Mary's in Freeport, Stephenson Co. (1846) and St. Mary's in Polo, Ogle
Co. (1856) have as yet gone unanswered. Each of these parishes is in a
county bordering Carroll. These parishes' addresses and dates of
establishement were found in The Official Catholic Directory.
neighboring Jackson and Clinton counties, Iowa, have not been checked.
This research into the Reagans is a "work in progress", and I would
welcome the contributions of any other researchers in compiling and
publishing an update, and ultimately discovering whether or not the
Reagan origins are in Ballyporeen.
R. Andrew Pierce is a professional genealogist specializing in
Irish-American connections. He can be reached at P.O. Box 6101,
Boston MA 02114, email