Monday 23 October 2017

'Their lives were never the same after the visit'

Graham Clifford

As the helicopters dropped out of the morning sky on June 27, 1963, the Irish branch of the Kennedy family started wondering what they'd got themselves into.

They were hard-working, quiet and decent people. Mary Ryan's modest farm on the outskirts of New Ross was overrun with journalists, photographers, gardai and American secret service personnel.

Some American newspapers painted the family as being near primitive. They were often misquoted and some asked if perhaps they were being used by President Kennedy in an attempt to boost his popularity with Irish-Americans.

They even received criticism when they decided to sell some basic wooden souvenirs of JFK from the homestead.

"There was no great profit in it I can assure you" says Pat Kirwan, a nephew of Mary Ryan's. "It was more a case of give them (the tourists) souvenirs or they'll take away part of the house."

In the months after JFK's visit, people flocked to Dunganstown and then more made the journey after the president was assassinated in Dallas.

"Mary and her daughters, Josie and Mary Anne, were trying to keep the farm going as best they could but sure they'd constantly have to see to visitors," recalls Pat Kirwan.

"Their lives were never the same after the visit in 1963," says Patrick Grennan, son of Josie Ryan.

"They got a very difficult time of it in the 1960s and '70s. At that time there was huge innocence. They had no exposure to media, very few had television sets around here. No family had really come across anything like this in Ireland before.

"The Kennedys in the States were used to media, to politics, to Hollywood, but sure here nobody was aware of any of that or the ramifications of such exposure."

The family would even have received letters from people falsely claiming to be their relations and by extension a cousin of President Kennedy's.

To this day, some members of the Kennedy family in Dunganstown, who welcomed JFK to their patch all those years ago, prefer not to talk about the visit.

But are there benefits to being related to such a world-renowned and iconic figure?

"Oh, I never said I was related to him when I was courting, that's for sure. To be honest I always tried to avoid drawing attention to it where possible – from about the age of six or seven I knew I wasn't to mention it," says Patrick.

Irish Independent

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