Sunday 24 September 2017

Welcome to club, Cowen: papers show JFK gave Lemass custom-made woods

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

A game of golf may yet cost Brian Cowen his job but he isn't the first leader of Fianna Fail to love the game Oscar Wilde dubbed a good walk spoiled.

Newly released documents show that Sean Lemass also loved 18 holes, helped no doubt by a handsome gift of handmade clubs from US President John F Kennedy.

And a personal note written by the doomed president just six weeks before he was assassinated shows JFK took a particular interest in making sure the clubs suited Mr Lemass's game.

In a note to the Taoiseach's aide-de-camp, Commandant John O'Brien, who was also Lemass's son-in-law, Mr Kennedy clearly took delight in presenting the set of clubs made by Scottish-born George Izett, a celebrated custom club maker.

"These are handmade clubs built especially to the specifications of his game, which we inveigled the Irish Government to reveal," the US president wrote.

The documents, available online for the first time from the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, reveal that Mr Lemass was presented with a unique combination of clubs; a 1-1/2, a 2-1/2, a 3-1/2 and 5 wood instead of a traditional 1,2, 3, and 4.

"They are designed to give a good golfer that extra 'lift' from the fairway, and that 5 wood is very frequently used from the rough -- if, by mischance, an expert like the prime minister should ever venture off the fairway," Mr Kennedy observed in a wry note.

"I speak with assurance about this particular foursome of woods because they are just like my own," he wrote.

The George Izett company still makes custom-made clubs but the maker didn't sign his name on Mr Lemass's set. Instead, the Taoiseach's initials 'SL' were engraved on the clubs.

Mr Lemass joined Skerries golf Club in 1931 and later became captain, vice-president and president of the north Dublin club.

The gift followed a state visit to the US by Mr Lemass, and his wife Kathleen, accompanied by Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken.

Mr Kennedy also sent the Irish party home with a gift for President Eamon De Valera. The Washington-Bailey Sword was an authentic reproduction of the weapon that General Washington wore throughout the American war of independence. It was a particularly appropriate gift for Dev, according to Mr Kennedy, "in view of the large number of men from Ireland who bore arms in defense of the United States in our Revolutionary Wars and succeeding conflicts".

Mr Aiken was presented with a cigarette case.

Briefing documents given to Mr Kennedy and his staff included interesting pen pictures of the visiting Irish dignatories.

"Born in Ballybrack, County Dublin, in 1899, Sean Lemass joined the Irish independence movement while still a boy (he was only 16 when arrested in the Easter Rising of 1916) ... a young-appearing 63, Lemass is a hard-working executive who enjoys fishing and a good game of golf."

Mr Kennedy's White House staff also gave JFK some suggestions about what to include in his speech welcoming his Irish visitors.

Note 6 was headlined "Joke" with the notes advising the president: "depending on the nature of the guest list. Story of Irish immigrant who upon arrival in New York wanted to know the difference between an Episcopalian and a catholic. Both churches have crosses and the interiors appear similar. An older Irish immigrant after failing to describe accurately the difference between an Episcopalian and a catholic, finally in desperation said: 'An Episcopalian is a catholic who votes Republican!'"

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News