Friday, June 29, 2007

John F. Kennedy's Irish visit...a brief reflection.

I'm possibly one of the youngest people alive who has a distinct recollection of John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland in the summer of 1963. I was eight years old at the time. Today marks the 44th anniversary of Kennedy's departure from Ireland at the end of his visit.

One very representative memory actually came from my eighteen year old cousin who was staying in our house as a student in Dublin. She set off on her bicycle to Dublin airport to try to see the President. She left late and was warned by my mother that she would see nothing due to all the crowds. In any event she returned home after a few hours in a high state of excitement. My cousin related to us how she had been peddling along the road on the way to the airport when to her shock she saw the presidential cavalcade approaching up ahead. Stumbling off her bicycle she stood as a lone isolated figure on the roadside and began waving at the big limousine. To her utter amazement President Kennedy spotted the tall attractive lass with the bicycle on the roadside and waved back to her! Well I don't think my cousin could have felt any better if she had been given a personal autograph from the four Beatles!

It's hard to get across today to people how hugely important the Kennedy visit was at the time. Kennedy helped to teach all age groups in Ireland to stop being shy and introverted as part of a small nation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a great grandchild of Irish emigrants. In many ways he remained a very pure Irish figure from both his paternal and maternal roots. Here he was coming back to Ireland as president of the most powerful nation on Earth. And he was one of us. Plus he was charming, full of humour, young, tall and handsome and had time for everyone he met. It's often a dull cliche when Americans say they love Ireland but there is ample evidence that Kennedy's love was genuine and heartfelt. Personal stories abound of him making time to mingle longer than scheduled with so many local people during his visit.

All his speeches including the address to the Irish Parliament were powerful and easy to follow - even for me as an eight year old kid. He was a great motivator, he respected everything Ireland had achieved and showed us we can reach any goals we dream of. Kennedy himself was living proof of this.

Some of you will remember the idolatry the man enjoyed in Ireland in the 1960s following his visit and indeed his assassination that same year. In our house and most others there were pictures of Kennedy on the wall which enjoyed a respect and reverence only narrowly beaten in intensity by the Sacred Heart of Jesus picture. There was open weeping when Kennedy died and everyone in Ireland from my age upwards can tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard of his shooting.

I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that Kennedy's presidency was the genesis of considerable tangible American commercial interest in Ireland coupled with a growing self-belief that we Irish could stand tall with any nation.


Maisey said...

My Dad brought my brother and I out to the Archbishops palace in Drumcondra to watch the cavalcade go by. Dad filmed the whole thing with his cine camera and then drove us down to Wexford which he also filmed.

On arriving home that night our neighbours informed us they had seen us on the Tele! Instead of being famous, we were infamous! We had been filmed fighting! Well we were aged only 4 and 6. I don't remember too much of the day just bits and pieces, but the one memento we do have is the cine film Dad made.

Thank you for mentioning thins and bring up a happy memory for me.

John of Dublin said...

Hello Maisey. It's nice to see a linkover from Flickr pals!

I guess there are younger people than me who have memories! Your story is both funny and interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

Omaniblog said...

It's good to read you again.

I was 12 when he came. And I think I still remember his speech from Limerick racecourse. He said Limerick was famous for 'fast women and beautiful racehorses' or ' beautiful women and fast racecourses'... Perhaps I made that up? Somehow it got lodged in my brain.

You're right about people being able to remember where they were when they heard of his shooting. Just like I'll always remember where I was when I heard of Diana's shooting.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani, nice to hear from you. I do recall that about woman and racehorses, I'm also mixed up on which way around it was!

Kevin said...

John, nothing to do with this post, alas, but I couldn't find an email address belonging to you.

I recall, I think, you saying that you had received, as a gift, a copy of your blog pieces in book form. As a gift to someone, I want to get something similar done with the letters we've sent one another. Any idea where I might be able to get it done?

All the best,

kevin said...

Hey John,

I had to delete the comment from my blog because I know the person in question occasionally flicks through it from time to time. But thanks for the advice; in the end, it might come down to doing what your sister did. I have plenty of time, though.

All the best,

betsythedevine said...

A statue of the holy Virgin and a big framed photo of JFK were common features of many US homes also. If you did something naughty in the kitchen, you had to tell the Virgin you were sorry--if you sinned in the living room, the apology got made to JFK!

ainelivia said...

Remember it, God we were parked outside the airport in the car, (me Da being a big fan)with enough food to feed the five thousand. Mammy never went anywhere without supplies. Stayed with the Grandparents near Fairview so that we could attempt to get a glimpse of the man.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks Betsy and ainelivia.

ainelivia said...

It's amazing what memories your post has stimulated for me. My Father got an LP (long-playing record) with Kennedy's speeches on it after the visit. I believe that Kennedy's Dail speech was on it, and I remember listening to it with my Father.

One of the things that occurs to me is the cadence of Kennedy's voice, I often wonder if he borrowed something from the preaching style of Martin Luther King. They were contemperies after all.

nadnerbmcg said...

Does anyone out there have any memories of JFKs visit to Galway in 1963?