Sunday 21 January 2018

From a golden June to a November tragedy

When John F Kennedy departed Ireland on June 29, 1963, he was on a high. The state visit had been a success, rich in emotion and sentiment but underpinned with speeches of real substance and lasting value to all who heard him speak.

For a time, the Irish public seemed floored by it all. They'd witnessed the heady, giddy excitement of Wexford and the cries of "We want Jack" from the crowds outside Iveagh House, where the state dinner took place.

They'd cheered him all the way down Cork's Patrick Street and listened in Eyre Square, Galway as he told the people to see if they could spot their relatives over the sea in Boston. They'd never seen anyone like him and they didn't want him to leave.

In a year that would see many tears shed for President Kennedy, the starting point was his departure from Shannon Airport, in hindsight, a scene of almost unbearable pathos.

"This is where we all say goodbye . . ." began the US president before he spoke of seeing "old Shannon's face again".

He then mounted the steps to his plane and waved farewell to Ireland and its people for the final time.

Within five months he would be assassinated, in an appalling tragedy that shocked the world and led to scenes of terrible grief and despair in this country.

In Part Two of 'JFK Stories', we take a deeper look at the sheer innocence and exuberance of the visit and how it impacted on Ireland – and JFK himself.

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter gives his verdict and elsewhere we take a closer look at JFK's speech to both houses of the Oireachtas.

For teachers and students, there is much of interest in this supplement, including a study of the media's coverage of the visit – at home and abroad.

We also have a quiz and a look through the many fascinating museum and online exhibitions set to mark the 50th anniversary.

There is also a closer look at how the State protected JFK during his trip, and we hear the memories of various Defence Forces and An Garda Siochana personnel.

They include then members of the Defence Force's Cadets, who made such a big impression on JFK as they performed a military drill for him at Arbour Hill.

Sadly, but with great honour, Irish Cadets would also be invited by President's Kennedy's grieving widow, Jacqueline, to perform for a final time at JFK's November funeral. It would be the saddest finale to what had been such a golden summer in Ireland.



Irish Independent

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