'His eternal flame has landed on our shores, let's bring John Kennedy home'
WHEN John F Kennedy touched down in New Ross 50 years ago, the entertainment provided consisted of a school choir and a local Ceili band.
How times have changed.
The thousands who descended on the town to enjoy the JFK homecoming celebrations on Saturday were treated to performers such as tenor Michael Londra, Judy Collins – who once sang for President Kennedy, and Gospel singers from Alabama.
There was a fly-past by the Irish Air Corps and a colourful parade snaked through the town.
The arrival of the LE ORLA, which carried the eternal flame taken from the grave of JFK, delighted the onlookers.
From early morning, they gathered and included 72-year old Maeve Franklin, who told how her father Aidan shook hands with JFK and asked if he'd come over to the John V Kelly pub for a quick pint.
"President Kennedy laughed and said he'd love to but he wouldn't be allowed by those around him."
Margaret Murphy (81), from New Ross, recalled how she managed to get close to the barriers and actually clasped the late president's hand.
"It was an amazing day. My husband and father were in the band and my brother, in America, spotted the two of them on the TV that day."
Also in the band was Tom Doyle. "We spent months learning the US anthem . . . It was an electric day," he said.
With broadcasters George Hook and Anne Doyle warming up the crowd, Taoiseach Enda Kenny greeted JFK's sister Jean Kennedy Smith off the LE ORLA with the 'Kennedy lamp'.
Novelist Colm Tobin told the crowd: "President Kennedy was the most powerful man in the world and he was back in his home place."
The American Spiritual Ensemble singers stole the show with Bobby Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, so thrilled by their songs about breaking free of slavery that she jumped to her feet and gestured to the rest of the crowd to join in.
Michael Flatley roused the masses when he said: "In 1963, Ireland's favourite son John F Kennedy said he loved Ireland and that he would come home in the spring.
"Sadly he never made that trip but his eternal flame has landed on our shores, let's bring John Kennedy home."
Torchbearers, which included members of the New Ross Special Olympic group, brought the flame to the new emigrant memorial where the Taoiseach, Jean Kennedy Smith and the late president's daughter, Caroline, jointly placed it into a globe.
The tributes flowed before JFK's grandson, Jack Schlossberg, spoke on behalf of his family.
"We've been told over and over that America is no longer the great country it was when my grandfather was president. But if we feel, even for a minute, that the solutions to the problems that confront us are beyond our reach ... we must remember Ireland."