Did Eisenhower have an affair with a West Cork woman?

Posted on: 7th April, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: West Cork People

Samuel Kingston studied history at NUI Galway and has a keen interest in oral and local history. He is also interested in the Irish historical experience abroad especially in Canada and South America. The aim of this column is to tell the stories of West Cork people both famous and forgotten who, through their lives at home or abroad, made an impact on their time.

Above: Kay Summersby in 1944

During World War II, a West Cork woman became a figure of scandal in US military circles. It was believed that she was having an affair with a high ranking US officer; an officer that one day would become leader of the most powerful country in the world. Even today, historians are intrigued by the relationship and the ‘did they, didn’t they’ appeal of the story. Here we examine the gossip and rumours that surrounded the pair.

 Dwight D Eisenhower

Dwight D Eisenhower

In 1943 during the second World War, Dwight D Eisenhower, future President of the United States, became Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force. His chauffeur at this time was Kay Summersby. Kay was born Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh. She was born in Inish Beg House, Baltimore, Co. Cork on November 23, 1908.

Kay, a noted beauty, moved to London with her mother following her parent’s separation. She married a British army officer Gordon Thomas Summersby in 1936. By the outbreak of war in 1939 she was a fashion model for Worth, but on hearing Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war on the wireless on September 3, she signed up the following day with the Motor Transport Corps. In May 1942, she was assigned as driver to the then Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Later she became his secretary and spent the rest of the war with him. During this time he was made a five star general and the Supreme Commander. Kay had by this time divorced Summersby. She became engaged to Colonel Richard Arnold with whom she had being having an affair while with Summersby. Arnold was a US Army officer based in North Africa and he was killed while mine clearing in Tunisia in June 1943. His death overlapped with her time as Eisenhower’s chauffeur. It is this relationship with Eisenhower that has caused the most controversy over the years. Speculation over their relationship began from the start. Around the Army Headquarters there were rumours that they were involved in an affair. It is clear that they were very close but how close is a matter of debate.

Evidence suggests that Eisenhower enjoyed spending time with Kay but did the relationship go further? Eisenhower was married to Maime Genena Doud. It seems Maime and Kay had a mutual dislike for one another. Maime clearly distrusted Kay, seeing her as a potential husband snatcher. According to Harry Truman, at one point Eisenhower discussed divorcing Maime and marrying Kay with General George Marshall. Marshall advised that it would probably cost him any chance of a political career. Truman’s version of events may be purposefully misleading as Eisenhower was a political opponent. The contradictions in the story are fascinating, many who worked close to him deny that he was ever involved with Kay yet General Omar Bradley in his autobiography was of the opinion that the two were having an affair and it is noted that President Roosevelt told his daughter Anna that he believed Eisenhower was having an affair with Kay.

The story has many conflicting opinions, not helped by Kay herself. She wrote two books about her life. The first in 1948 made no mention of an affair. Later in 1975 a much more incendiary book was released, this book was ghost written by Barbara Wyden. This book gave a detailed account of the affair. Kay at this stage was dying of Cancer and Eisenhower himself had passed in 1969. Critics of this book claim the details of the affair were merely a fabrication by the ghost writer in an attempt to create a juicy story and boost sales. Eisenhower for his part only mentions Kay once in his own autobiography and that was in a list of his aides. It seems strange that for two people who spent so much time together that she would not receive more mentions but I guess the book served a different agenda. It is clear from the many press photographs that they were close and even Eisenhower’s staunchest supporter will admit that the two were close.

In 1979, the relationship got a new lease of life in the TV min-series – ‘Ike: The War Years’ – this drama focused on the relationship between Eisenhower and Summersby showing how popular the story was in the public imagination. Again, how much of the story was true is impossible to know but no doubt this drama lead to many popular misconceptions about the pair’s relationship. In the drama, Robert Duvall played Eisenhower and Lee Remick played Summersby.

What is true is that Eisenhower helped her become a US citizen and a commissioned officer in the US Women’s Army Corps, which she left in 1947. It also appears that after the war the two never saw each other again. Eisenhower went on to become the 34th President of the United States in 1953. He stayed in office for two terms, being replaced by John F. Kennedy in 1961. He died in 1969. In November 1952, Kay married Reginald Herber Morgan, a stockbroker. They divorced in 1958. She died of cancer at Southampton, Long Island, NY on January 20, 1975 and her ashes brought back to County Cork. Her military awards included the Legion of Merit, Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, European Campaign Medal, World War Two Victory Medal and Army of Occupation Medal.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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17th February, 2018  ·  

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