Friday 20 October 2017

A visit like no other, an anniversary to savour

CIARAN BYRNE

Fifty years ago, at 7.50pm on Wednesday June 26th, United States Air Force One touched down at Dublin Airport, after a two hour flight from Berlin.

On board was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States.

In 'JFK Stories', our special commemorative two-part magazine series, we chronicle the landmark State visit to Ireland and its lasting aftermath. We are honoured to include special contributions from political leaders in Ireland and the United States.

On these pages, the US Secretary of State Mr John F Kerry offers his special assessment on the anniversary of President Kennedy's visit.

In Part Two on Monday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny writes that "President Kennedy, through his words and encouragement, in effect shifted the national psyche, convincing us that Ireland, though small, still had a capacity for greatness and the ability to play a meaningful role on the world stage."

That impact is explored in these pages as we look at how in four action-packed days, President Kennedy embarked on what would become an exceptionally familial, intimate Irish adventure.

Everywhere he went, ecstatic crowds greeted him and watched his every move. He was profoundly moved by the different experiences.

They were truly momentous days and the visit gave Ireland, weary from prolonged emigration and seemingly drab prospects, an injection of much-needed excitement.

In Dublin, the itinerary included laying a wreath to the 1916 dead at Arbour Hill and attending a chaotic garden party at Aras an Uachtarain.

But the highlight for many was a stirring, stunning speech to both houses of the Oireachtas at Leinster House.

In Part One, we give you the speech in full while in Part Two, historians have a deeper look and analyse its messaages.

JFK had been to Ireland before - in 1947 - to see the Dunganstown, Co Wexford homestead of his great-grandfather Patrick, a cooper who in 1835 emigrated from New Ross to Boston.

In 1963, as president, he was returning to Wexford, and the welcome he got was something that would deeply move him and his family. He also visited Cork, Galway and Limerick.

At the heart of 'JFK Stories' are the memories of those who were there in these places; the children who met and performed for him, the people who helped organise the events and the men and women who were on hand to record the trip.

We hope you enjoy their stories. We also hear from JFK in Ireland author Ryan Tubridy and go inside the secret state files on the the 1963 visit with Dr Michael Kennedy of the Royal Irish Academy.

In Part Two, enjoy a wealth of extra material for the classroom. We hope students and teachers find 'JFK Stories' a useful educational aid.

Irish Independent

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