General Martin E. Dempsey (B. Jersey City, USA 1952) While Irish people may not have heard of General Dempsey, this notable member of our Diaspora was a household name in the US. He was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States. Previous to this appointment in 2011 he was Chief of Staff of the Army until invited by President Barack Obama to take up the position as Chairman.
A defining trait of General Dempsey is his Irish identity – more specifically, his Donegal roots. General Dempsey’s grandfather, John Óg Devenney, originally came from Ranafast, in the Gaeltacht region of Donegal. In 1926 his grandfather left the region on a train from Crolly, going to the port at Derry, where he boarded a ship, The Cameronia, bound for New York.
Immersed in Irish culture, General Dempsey learned to speak Gaelic while spending his summers West Donegal as a youth. The Devenney family homestead from where his grandfather emigrated 85 years ago is still lived in today. He has cousins and other family members living in the Ranafast area, all immensely proud of Martin Dempsey’s pivotal role in the Government of the United States. His cousin Donnchadh Devenney would like to see his relative honoured by the Irish state. Speaking on Donegal TV he said:
'His grandfather left the old train station in Crolly with four of his friends to find a better life in America and they were played off by the local Ranafast band which they were members of. It’s great to see that something good came of it and that an Irishman and the rest of his family have done so well for themselves.'
Along with other family members Donnchadh met up with his cousin in New York recently. General Dempsey says he has definite plans to visit Donegal but with the demands of his job it will probably be at the end of his term of office.