Remembering John F Kennedy

Fifty years after his death, the legacy of this Irish-American president doesn’t just live on. It lives strong.

JFK's warm welcome home provided by Irish Times
JFK's warm welcome home provided by Irish Times

Ask almost any member of the Baby Boomer generation and they’ll be able to tell you exactly where they were on November 22nd, 1963.

It is, of course, that infamous date which marks the anniversary of the death of the Irish-American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It is a date that will be remembered somberly, not just in America, but around the world.

Home is where the heart is

There’s a saying in the Irish language that goes “níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”. It means, loosely, that there is no place like home.

And while for the most eventful years of his life, John F Kennedy called the White House home, the former US President may have been even more comfortable in a tiny cottage half way around the world… in Ireland.

On 26 June 1963, Air Force One, carrying John F Kennedy of the Dunganstown Kennedy’s, touched down in Dublin airport.

“He was” says Ryan Tubridy, author of JFK in Ireland, “like a rainbow coming off a plane”.

A new job for a president

The next morning a helicopter brought the President to Wexford, the county of his great-grandfather. In the speech he made in New Ross, he joked that if his relations hadn’t left Ireland, he might now be working at the local factory, or the shop down the road.

The whole speech can be read on the plaque beside the life-sized bronze sculpture of him that stands on Charles Street Dock in New Ross today.

Remembering JFK

In May 2013, a torch was lit at John F Kennedy's resting place in Arlington Cemetery. It then began its journey to New Ross, County Wexford, the very place where the Kennedy story began.

Every year on November 22nd, the Chairman of the New Ross Town council places a wreath by JFK’s bronze likeness. But 2013 is no ordinary year: it’s the 50th anniversary, so a special Mass in remembrance and parade to the quayside are in order. A lament, written specially for the occasion, will close the day’s events celebrating the life of one of County Wexford’s most famous descendants. Gone for half a century, but definitely not forgotten.

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An unexpected invitation

After the visit, JFK later told his aides that his favourite part of the trip was the wreath laying and silent funeral drill done by the Irish Army cadets at Arbour Hill military cemetery in Dublin.

Five months later, his widow Jacqueline Kennedy made a special request to the Irish government. Could those Irish cadets, who so impressed the President on his visit, perform the drill again at his state funeral? Within days, those awe-stuck, trembling young men stood inches from the foreign dignitaries who had arrived from over 90 countries, and performed their silent funeral drill in memory of a president that had inspired their country only months previously.

The Homestead

The rosary beads that were in the President’s pocket on that terrible day in Dallas can be seen in the Museum and Visitor Centre that now stands on Mary Ryan’s farm in Dunganstown. Proudly known as the Kennedy Homestead, it reopened in June 2013 in time for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s visit.

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