Monday 11 December 2017

After joy of summer, a winter of tears

As the Ryans of Dunganstown came to terms with the tragic news that their cousin had been assassinated, a telegram arrived by special delivery to the quiet farmyard outside New Ross.

It had come directly from the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy sent for the 64-year-old Mary Ryan to come for the funeral in Washington, but she felt the trip and enormity of the occasion might be too much for her.

In her stead her daughter Mary Ann, a nurse at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, aged just 24, agreed to represent the family. Just months before, the picture of a smiling Mary Ann pouring tea for JFK was seen on news stands across the globe.

A special chartered flight –carrying among other dignitaries the then Communist leader of Romania Gheorghe Gheorghiu – stood on the tarmac at Shannon Airport waiting for Mary Ann Ryan to board on Monday afternoon, November 25, 1963.

In letters written to her mother and sister Josie from Washington, Mary Ann told how she was treated "like something in a glass case" by US officials. She was collected in Washington by the American State department but also met her uncle Michael, who lived there, on arrival.

Mary Ann travelled to the funeral in the same car as Princess Radziwill (sister-in-law of JFK) and Ted Kennedy's wife (Virginia Joan Kennedy) and was seated next to Martin Luther King for the service.

She also travelled with Patricia Kennedy-Lawford, JFK's sister, and her husband, the famous British actor Peter Lawford, on another car journey that day.

On the evening of the funeral, Jackie Kennedy called Mary Ann (pictured inset) into a room at the White House and tearfully gave her President Kennedy's Rosary beads and his military identification tag as a keepsake to be passed to Mary Ryan. During her time in Washington Mary Ann stayed near the White House in the same hotel as President De Valera and the US Ambassador to Ireland Matthew McCloskey, and everywhere she went local photographers followed.

In later years, Mary Ann would become close to JFK's sister Jean Kennedy-Smith and kept contact with Mary Boylan, President Kennedy's private secretary, even staying with her on a trip to Boston in 1987.

Graham Clifford

Irish Independent

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