JFK mania descends on ancestral town as Kennedy clan enjoys 'homecoming'
The four days John spent in Ireland were the happiest he ever was, reveals nephew
With stars and stripes flying from every flagpole, the town of New Ross woke up this morning to JFK mania.
Shop fronts in the Wexford town are decorated with American colours and pictures from 1963 when the most powerful man in the world came to visit his ancestral home.
As many as 30 members of the extended Kennedy family made the trip from the USA for the celebrations, including the late president's daughter Caroline and sister Jean Kennedy Smith – the former US ambassador to Ireland.
Yesterday afternoon members of the Kennedy family still based in New Ross met with their American cousins for a photoshoot. American broadcasters NBC and CBS have camera crews in the town for the event while the BBC and Sky also have teams based in New Ross.
Seven members of the Kennedy family took questions in St Michael's theatre last night with Douglas Kennedy, son of Bobby Kennedy, speaking of the family's delight in being here to mark the historic occasion.
"Everybody who knew him knew that the four days he spent in Ireland were the happiest he ever was in his life. He came to himself here. He left here knowing that he had discovered some part of himself and his last words (to the Irish people) were 'I'll see you in the spring.'"
His sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said that there was added poignancy in the occasion as it was also 50 years since Kennedy died.
"That makes everything sadder and tougher. John Kennedy knew himself that every moment in life in precious. For us (as Kennedys) we've grown up with knowing how precious life is. The Irish understand that because they've gone through so many wars and pain. You know that every moment has to be precious."
A regular visitor to Ireland, she added that the Kennedy family's love-affair with politics has its roots in the country of their ancestors.
"The idea of service comes from the Irish Catholic tradition. There is always someone who is a little worse off, so there's always something you can do and I think that's really an Irish trait. Just think of the number of Irish who went on to become police officers, teachers and nurses abroad.
"I do believe, too, that politics is special, I want to say that because it's degraded as being dirty these days. Politics is an honourable profession and that's where you can make the biggest difference and change policy. That's why I always urge people to get involved in politics and run for office if you can."
A new visitor centre, which cost €1.5m to build, will be opened at the Kennedy family homestead by the Taoiseach.
It will house an exhibition of photographs taken during JFK's visit to the rural farmyard of his cousin Mary Ryan in 1963 as well as tributes to the rest of the Kennedy family. Thousands are expected in New Ross to enjoy celebrations led by broadcasters Anne Doyle and George Hook.
Among those performing in the town centre will be Michael Flatley, novelist Colm Tobin and tenor Michael Londra.