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How West Cork’s Kay stole the heart of a US President

Wednesday, 24th May, 2017 6:03pm
How West Cork’s Kay stole the heart of a US President

Kay pinning the US pennant on Eisenhower’s car.

Aisling Meath on the story of the love triangle involving two women and a man who would later become the president of the United States

 

A RECENTLY published biographical novel The General’s Women by New York Times best-selling author Susan Witting Albert focuses on two women, from two different continents, who loved the same man. 

It tells the story of the relationship between West Cork woman Kay Summersby, and General Dwight Eisenhower, who was later to became the 34th President of the United States. But it also includes the story of Mamie Doud, who was Eisenhower’s wife. 

Dwight Eisenhower, known as Ike, had married Mamie in 1916, and they had two sons, one dying at the age of three of scarlet fever.

It was his destiny to meet Kate Summersby in London during the height of WWII in his role as a General of the US Army, where Kate was assigned as his driver in her role as member of the British Mechanical Transport Corps and as such had driven ambulances during the Blitz. The two found themselves irresistibly drawn towards one another as they hurtled through the streets of the war-torn city.

This is not the first book to throw light on the affair, however. In 2015 former RTÉ journalist Kieron Wood also delved into the love triangle in his book Ike’s Irish Lover: The Echo of a Sigh.

Kay Summersby was born Kathleen McCarthy Morrogh, in Schull in 1908, and later grew up in Inish Beg, between Skibbereen and Baltimore, far away from the corridors of power on the other side of the Atlantic.

She later modelled in Paris and married Gordon Summersby whose name she retained after they divorced.  When she met Eisenhower she was engaged, but after her fiancé got killed the two became closer despite his marriage. In the height of the war she became his steadfast aide, confidante and lover. 

During this time, Mamie, his wife, was apparently aware that her husband had another woman, once saying that he had ‘a particular love for Ireland.’

While Ike continued on with his affair with Kay in London, and beyond, over in Washington DC Mamie struggled with her own personal battles of bad health, bitter jealousy and a phobic dread of gossip. 

Ike’s letters home failed to reassure, and Mamie feared for her marriage. Many sources suggest that Eisenhower wanted to divorce her but this never transpired into reality and they remained married for the rest of their lives despite his affair with Kay. 

In researching her novel, writer Susan Witting Albert meticulously sourced newspaper archives, Kay’s memoirs, Ike’s letters and fellow officers’ wartime diaries to weave this tale of entangled relationships, love and ultimate heartbreak.

‘Kay played an important and long overlooked role in Eisenhower’s wartime life.’  Susan told The Southern Star ‘During a particularly difficult time in North Africa one of his generals told a censorious colleague to “Leave Kay alone, she’s helping him to win the war.’ 

‘I think it was her Irish heart – and her Irish courage – that kept him strong through the rough patches,’ she said.

Kay Summersby passed away in 1966, and her brother brought her ashes to scatter on the family grave in the churchyard at Rath in Baltimore. 

She leaves behind the stories of her most adventurous life, and helping to win the war not least among them.

 

•  The General’s Women by Susan Witting Albert is available on Amazon.com