No sooner had Hillary Clinton announced Tim Kaine as her running mate than articles on his roots began to appear – mostly about his inherent Irishness. And there’s good reason for this as he is of mostly Irish heritage – about 80% with the balance being Scottish. And he’s been to Ireland a few times, even visiting the homestead of his Farrell line in County Longford. But what else was there to learn?
I went digging and discovered striking parallels with Vice President Biden’s family history. Both are predominantly Irish (Biden coming in at roughly 63%) with maternal family trees that are entirely so and paternal ones that are slightly more mixed. Both families are also devoutly Catholic. I tripped across a number of references to Kaine’s ancestors as being among the earliest and/or longest parishioners of assorted Catholic churches, and at least two branches produced priests including one who resides in Wichita today. And both are descendants of mostly Famine-era emigrants – though in Kaine’s case, it was his surname line that would bring up the rear when his Kaine great-grandfather arrived in the 1880s. In fact, on his father’s side of the family, all his great-grandparents were immigrants, while on his mother’s side, all his great-great-grandparents were immigrants.
Surnames that appear in Kaine’s family tree include Buntin, Burns, Downey, Farrell, Finn, Fleming, Flynn, Gormley, Hanighan, Hannon, Hermiston, Jones, Kaine, King, Mackey, Mannion, McAnally, Milnamow, Phelan, Potts, and Sullivan, so particularly if yours overlap geography-wise, you could be cousins.
And the geography in play? In the United States, it’s mostly Kansas and Missouri, with supporting roles played by Illinois and Iowa and a sprinkling of other states. Once you cross the pond to Ireland, he has roots in at least Cork (Wallstown/Castletownroche), Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny (Mullinakill, Tullogher), and Longford (Derryad, Killashee). In Scotland, it’s the vicinity of Glasgow that holds his past, my favorite being the charmingly named Paisley. And while there are additional locations to be determined in Ireland, some of what has been claimed is either wrong (e.g., Donegal) or unsubstantiated (e.g., Waterford).
So preliminaries aside, what’s his family’s story?
Many who delve into their roots fixate on ancestors who bore their surname. I’ve been known to bristle at this kind of genealogical myopia, but have to admit that in this instance, it was the Kaine branch that captured my attention – mainly because I saw in their lives a sort of American Downton Abbey. But to be clear, they were the downstairs people.
Alexander Kaine was born in Campsie, Scotland in 1863 to an Irish father and Scottish mother. He emigrated to America as a young man in his twenties and found his way to Topeka, Kansas where he went to work for Erasmus Bennett, a wealthy horse importer and breeder. But he was more than just another employee. Apparently, Alexander had a way with horses, so became Bennett’s foreman.
You wouldn’t think that stable master for a rich fellow in Topeka would be an especially dangerous job, but it was. In 1890, Alexander was attacked – and viciously so – by a fellow who worked for him. If you’re interested in the gory details, I invite you to read the following. For those who’d prefer to skip, suffice it to say that you can do a lot of damage with a pitchfork.