Elvis Presley’s Irish Roots

by Martin Gleeson

Following news of Lisa Marie Presley’s untimely death, Martin Gleeson has sent this piece on Elvis Presley’s Irish ancestry. Elvis’s ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’ and ‘Danny Boy’ recordings are available on Youtube.

Elvis Presley’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather came from Stranakelly, County Wicklow.



In May 2016, a court document dated 1775 was auctioned in Whyte’s Auctioneers in Molesworth Place, Dublin. It sold for €2300. This legal document tells us that William Presley, whose signature is at the bottom, was in dispute over land with a group of men.

William Presley was a farmer in the townland of Stranakelly, in the parish of Mullinacuff, Co. Wicklow in the 18th century. Stranakelly is 4 miles west of Tinahely.

According to The Irish Times, in August 1775, in the Carlow Court of Assizes, William claimed that these men from Hacketstown, Co. Carlow, 8 miles away from his farm, ‘violently insulted, assaulted, beat, kicked and abused him.’  He said that the men used their whips and fists, dragged him down by the legs and then gave him several kicks in the body and face without provocation. He said that he was in great dread and feared for his life.


The case was adjourned by the Magistrate for a further hearing, but soon afterwards William Presley along with his son Andrew emigrated to the United States, settling in New Orleans. I think it is safe to assume that the Presley family was forced out of their native country. William later moved to Carolina and then Tennessee, where he died in 1802.

He had a granddaughter called Rosella who had several children, one of whom was a son called Jesse Presley. In 1913, Jesse Presley married a lady named Minnie Mae. They had a son in 1916 called Vernon Elvis Presley.

Vernon Elvis Presley married Gladys Love Smith in 1933. They lived in a poor part of Tupelo, a town in the state of Mississippi where in a two-room house built by her husband,Gladys Presley gave birth to twin sons. The first was stillborn. The other, Elvis Aaron Presley, was their only living child. Born on 8 January 1935, he later became the world-famous King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis's antecedents had roots in Stranakelly, Co Wicklow
Photo by JR Harris on Unsplash


Elvis grew up during the Great Depression in a poor community. Elvis’s father was introuble with the law in 1938 and the Presley family lost their house. From there on, they moved from one rented home to another in various parts of Tupelo. Elvis attended the East Tupelo Elementary School. He took guitar lessons, and the Assembly of God Church was an important part of his life.

In 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis graduated from Humes High School in 1953. On the following year, he made a record for Sun Records called ‘That’s All Right’.  

This was Elvis’s first step in a career which made him one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century.


Even though he told many people that he would like to do so, Elvis never visited Ireland. The nearest he ever came to this country was in March 1960. Now Sergeant Presley, he was finishing off his American national service in Germany. The military plane had to make a refuelling stopover in Prestwick Airport, in Scotland, and for 2 hours he mingled with dozens of passengers.

According to the Bristol Post, Elvis liked Irish songs. In 1973 he recorded ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’. After encouragement from his father Vernon, Elvis recorded the song ‘Danny Boy’ at his Graceland mansion in 1976. He declared that Danny Boy had been written by angels and that he would like to have it played at his funeral. And ‘Danny Boy’ was one of the songs played on the day of his burial after he had died on 16 August 1977.

Originating from Thurles, in Co. Tipperary, Martin Gleeson is a regular contributor to Tinteán. Before retirement some ten years ago, he worked as a Marine Radio Officer, a Radar Technician and a Lecturer in the Limerick Institute  of Technology. He and his wife Carmel have five children, including Rory, who lives in Melbourne, ‘a city I dearly love’, says Martin.