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 in Tipperary.

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 Irish Records 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.

The Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland identifies 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 states that 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.

Griffith's Valuation, 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 Co. Tipperary.

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 records.

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. shows: Birthplaces for all are given as "Ireland".

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 personal property.

"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 born Illinois.

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 and 1830.

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, age 35.

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; and children 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. Churces in 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