Serving up good food to Washington’s eminent folk

Serving up good food to Washington’s eminent folk Kathy Buckley, adventurous Irish cook, in the White House garden.

Kathy White House: Kathy Buckley – Her Culinary Odyssey, by Vincent Carmody (€35.00, plus postage and packing, via Fitzsimons Printers Ltd., Shanagolden, Co, Limerick; tel.: 069-76-226; email:


The White House in the US is one of the most storied houses in history. It was built between 1792 and 1800. The architect was Kilkenny-born James Hoban and many other Irishmen were involved in its construction. During the American War of Independence, it was captured and set ablaze by the British forces but it was re-constructed in 1815–17.

Not only the presidents but all who worked and resided in the White House were proud of having had that opportunity. This was certainly true of Katherine (Kathy) Buckley, head cook at the White House from 1924 to 1933. Kathy was born in Listowel, Co. Kerry, on March 10, 1885. She attended the Presentation Convent School. Following her primary education, she spent an extra year studying domestic economy and during the year discovered that she had a natural skill for cooking which she developed and honed during the rest of her life.

Kathy was employed from 1900 to 1906 at the Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville, Co. Kerry, where she assisted in the kitchen and the hotel bar. There a pivotal incident occurred which determined the future trajectory of her life. The legendary banker and financier, JP. Morgan, was a guest in the hotel. It seems he was on a ‘working holiday’. He was a major shareholder in the Commercial Cable Co. which had cable stations in Waterville and nearby Valentia Island. After enjoying a meal prepared by Kathy, he requested to meet the cook to compliment and thank her. In so doing he offered her a job as assistant cook at his Manhattan residence in New York.

Kathy did not need a second invitation. She was employed by JP. Morgan from 1906 to 1913 and was devastated on hearing that he had died in his sleep during a visit to Rome in March 1913. Subsequently she was employed as a cook by a number of other elite families in the US. Grace Coolidge and her husband Calvin were friends of JP. Morgan and his wife and were frequent visitors to their home. The Coolidges were introduced to Kathy and they met her on a number of occasions. In 1924, the year after the election of Calvin Coolidge as president, the position of head cook at the White House was advertised. At the interview for the job Mrs Coolidge recognised Kathy as the cook she had met at JP. Morgan’s banquets. This enabled Kathy to secure her dream job.

Kathy’s time as head cook spanned the presidency of Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) and that of Herbert Hoover (1929-33). She enjoyed the friendship of the Coolidge and Hoover families. Ava Long, the White House housekeeper, recalled in 1933: “Katherine was a special favourite with the late President Coolidge. He greatly enjoyed her excellent cooking and her Irish temperament! Kathy with three assistants prepared the food for the president’s table, receptions, state dinners and the White House staff. On concluding her service at the White House Kathy, a US citizen from 1913, continued to work in her adopted country. She returned to Listowel in 1953 and, known as ‘Kathy White House’, lived in retirement until she died in 1969.

Besides the residents of the White House, Kathy cooked meals for kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, the famous musicians, singers, actors and actresses of the time, captains of industry and leading financiers. Thus the most valuable section of this book is a collection of menus with a reference to the occasion for which they were prepared.

The book is beautifully and lavishly illustrated and Fitzsimons Printers, Shanagolden, Co. Limerick, are to be congratulated on the splendid layout, design and colour printing.