Irish speaking, all-singing US Army general Martin Dempsey made honorary knight in Britain
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Irish speaking, all-singing US Army general Martin Dempsey made honorary knight in Britain

A RETIRED US Army general who is famously proud of his Irish roots has been made an honorary British knight.

Martin Dempsey, who retired last year after 41 years of service in the US Army, was made an honorary knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his “commitment to UK-US defence cooperation”.

But throughout his career, there was one other country that was always in General Dempsey’s heart.

Dempsey’s grandfather, John Óg Devenney, originally came from Ranafast in the Gaeltacht region of Donegal.

In 1926, Óg Devenney left his home in Donegal and boarded a ship in Derry bound for New York City.

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Taking after his grandfather, General Dempsey learned to speak Irish while spending summers back in Donegal as a youngster.

Though very few Irish people will be familiar with him, Dempsey is a household name in the United States and has never shied away from celebrating his Irish heritage.

(L-R) Incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford; Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and US President Barack Obama greet outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey (R) during his retirement ceremony at Fort Myer, Virginia on September 25, 2015. AFP PHOTO/YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images) US President Barack Obama greets Martin Dempsey during his retirement ceremony at Fort Myer, Virginia in September 2015. (Picture: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

Until his retirement in September 2015, Dempsey was the highest-ranking military officer in the entire United States.

Speaking at Dempsey’s retirement ceremony last year, President Obama lauded his outgoing general, saying: “Sound advice, with a little Irish charm, runs in the Dempsey family.” 

At his retirement ceremony last year – at which President Obama spoke in his honour – Dempsey took the microphone and sang a haunting rendition of the traditional Irish song, The Parting Glass.

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An Irish serenade...

The retired general received a master’s degree in English Literature from Duke University in North Carolina, writing an essay on legendary Irish poet W.B. Yeats’ poem Easter 1916 about the Easter Rising in Ireland against British rule.

Upon receiving the knighthood from the Queen, Dempsey quoted William Shakespeare’s Henry V.

“It was an honour to serve side by side with the extraordinary and courageous men and women of the British Armed Forces for the past 40 years in peace and in war,” he said.

“We ‘few, we happy few’ are partners by necessity, but we are friends by choice.”

As he is not a British citizen, Dempsey will not be able to use Sir as a prefix to his name, but will be able to use the letters KBE after his name.

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In 2005, the late Irish broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan had to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen to have his honorary knighthood upgraded to become a Sir.