American Cousin: Gregory Peck

Next Parish, America

When Thomas Ashe visited America in 1914 to fundraise for the Irish Volunteers his brother Gregory and their relatives had already emigrated to Boston.

Such was the level of emigration from West Kerry andalso because only the Atlantic ocean separated the coast of Kerry from America, a favourite phrase used locally was 'next Parish, America'.

Among the many thousands who emigrated in the 1880's was a young girl called Catherine Ashe who hailed from Aunascaul, not from Kinard. She arrived in Rochester, New York and later married a young local of English descent called Sam Peck. They had a son called Gregory, but Sam died when the child was just eleven months old. Catherine decided to return to Ireland and she and Gregory integrated into the local family circle.

Six years later they returned to America, where Catherine forged a successful career as a travelling saleslady.

In 1915 her son Gregory married Bernice May Ayres and in April 1916 (three weeks before the Easter Rising in Ireland) a son Gregory was born. Young Gregory was to become famous as a Hollywood actor in the aftermath of the Second World War. Like his kinsman, Thomas Ashe, Gregory displayed great moral conviction during his career. This was exemplified also by his film roles in which he was also cast in roles of leadership and moral authority. In one film 'The Keys of the Kingdom' his persona was described as that of "a father for all seasons, his visage, voice and frame came to signal home ground, to shelter whole litters of lost sons and daughters and to foster faith in just, though sometimes controversial causes"

He was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party in Americaand was the choice of President Lyndon Johnson for the post of U.S. Ambassador to Ireland had the President decided to go forward for re-election in 1968.

Although it didn't happen, Peck said it would be 'a great adventure'.

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