Sunday 24 September 2017

JFK said 'another verse of the Boys of Wexford would be fine'

Members of the choir who welcomed JFK to New Ross in 1963 travelled to sing on the Ed Sullivan show in the USA in 1964, photographed here boarding a plane in Dublin airport. Front l-r; John Doyle,Margaret Doyle,Patricia Warren,Helen Ronan,Mary Kelly,Moira Hendrick,Joyce Campbell,Eileen Brazil, Maureen Doyle. Middle; Sr.Carthage StCanices, Bro Sean Murphy RIP, Olivia Fortune RIP,Ita Ward,Rita McDonald,Jaqueline Murphy,Miss Deacon St.Catherines school,Fr. Jackie Power Augustinian church. Back: Tom Murphy,Victor Furness,Billy Kinsella,Mick Hamilton, John Nolan, Padraig Kennedy, Ray Kielthy, Jed MaGuire.
Members of the choir who welcomed JFK to New Ross in 1963 travelled to sing on the Ed Sullivan show in the USA in 1964, photographed here boarding a plane in Dublin airport. Front l-r; John Doyle,Margaret Doyle,Patricia Warren,Helen Ronan,Mary Kelly,Moira Hendrick,Joyce Campbell,Eileen Brazil, Maureen Doyle. Middle; Sr.Carthage StCanices, Bro Sean Murphy RIP, Olivia Fortune RIP,Ita Ward,Rita McDonald,Jaqueline Murphy,Miss Deacon St.Catherines school,Fr. Jackie Power Augustinian church. Back: Tom Murphy,Victor Furness,Billy Kinsella,Mick Hamilton, John Nolan, Padraig Kennedy, Ray Kielthy, Jed MaGuire.
Members of the choir meet after 50 years: Front l-r; Patricia Warren,Mary Kelly,Joyce Campbell,Eileen Brazil, Maureen Doyle. Back: Tom Murphy,Victor Furness,Billy Kinsella,Mick Hamilton, John Nolan.

Graham Clifford

As they watched the helicopters approaching, the children in O'Kennedy's GAA Park took a collective intake of breath.

"The boys from the Christian Brother's school were lying out on the grass to spell out 'Cead Mile Failte' for the president," recalls John Nolan, who was only 10-years-old at the time and in a specially assembled choir.

Children from the schools of New Ross gathered from early morning in the park dressed in their respective school uniforms.

"We had white trousers, a white shirt, red tie, red and white belt and white runners which my mother had to scrub clean the night before," recalls John.

As the massive helicopters landed the children "were nearly blown away" by the downdraft generated by the rotor blades.

When given the signal they launched into 'The Boys of Wexford' followed by 'Kelly The Boy from Killane.'

A beaming President Kennedy joined in with the singing and, when asked by a nun if he'd like another tune, he replied: "Another verse of the 'Boys of Wexford' would be just fine."

The president asked a 12-year-old girl named Moira Hendrick for a sheet of paper which contained the song lyrics and later slipped it into his pocket to keep as a memento.

Eileen Tobin recalls: "The excitement up at the park was unreal and we were praying that it wasn't going to rain. All we were worried about was that we'd get the songs right because we had school the next day and we'd hear about it if there were mistakes."

Once serenaded, the president bid the children farewell, though some chased behind the motorcade all the way down to the quayside – a mile away.

"I remember running down behind the procession. I got a tip of the top of his fingers which lived with me forever," says John.

Secret service agents tried to hold back the inquisitive young schoolchildren but failed. "Sure we didn't know who they were, we were so innocent at the time," recalls Thomas Murphy, who was 12.

A young Mary Cummins wouldn't be stopped from welcoming President Kennedy in person – "After we sang for JFK I ran down behind his car with my cousin. I actually shook his hand, I went down on my hands and knees and crawled through the legs of the adults and popped up at the front."

The following year, on the anniversary of President Kennedy's death, a selection of the choir, 21 children in total, were invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan TV show in New York.

They joined other guests Diana Ross and Danny Kaye on the programme and went on to meet and sing for Ted and Bobby Kennedy.

"In New York people would stop us on the street and we'd have to sing for them on demand after appearing on the show," remembers Patricia Warren, who was just 10 at the time.

"It was a magical trip for us as children," says Joyce Campbell, adding: "Even after so many years I still smile when I think about us all heading off from our little town to the bright lights of the Big Apple." graham clifford

Irish Independent

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