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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Hold the front page: JFK in Ireland - the media coverage

An official press card for the visit
An official press card for the visit
A photographer moves in to get a picture of the president at the homestead in Dunganstown.
The Washington Post
The Los Angeles Times reports from Dublin with the headline 'Kennedy Scores'
Daily Telegraph front page with Andy Farren of Lensemen's picture

Shane Hickey

AFTER the Boeing AF-1 carrying President John F Kennedy on his 10-day tour around Europe landed in Dublin Airport, there was some confusion amongst the international press corps about exactly how many people had come out to welcome their favourite relative.

Uncompromisingly etched across the front of the 'Los Angeles Times' on June 27, 1963, was "Kennedy Scores" with breathless detail of how the president received a "wild welcome" from a crowd estimated at a quarter of a million. The 'Daily Telegraph' agreed, saying it was "something Ireland will never forget for many a day".

The 'New York Times' was even more ambitious in its estimates, saying "all the Dubliners" seemed to be at the airport or on the 12-mile route to the US embassy in the Phoenix Park.

It was up to 'The Times' of London to add a more restrained note, maintaining just 10,000 were there on the day, a much more sombre welcome than was received in Berlin, where he had been previously.

The arrival of JFK to his ancestral home sparked a frenzy from the international press, both during the visit and during the build-up, causing some level of exasperation amongst locals already tired of the security measures.

On the day before the US president's arrival, 'The Guardian' described how his return to Ireland would be "very like the atmosphere in Britain when the servicemen came home after the war".

The veteran Irish journalist, editor and writer Tim Pat Coogan – then in his younger days as a reporter – wrote in the 'New York Times' of a discussion in a New Ross pub of how FBI men were "climbing the trees at the farm" where JFK's ancestors were from.

The visit to Ireland was widely seen in the international press as light relief in the overall European trip, especially coming after his visit to Berlin. The 'LA Times' said the trip to the land of his forefathers was a "relaxing interlude" where he could drink tea with relatives after a week in which he had sparred politically with President de Gaulle and dealt with a host of West German politicians.

The press pack tasked with following him around Ireland took the days away from the weight of post-war European politics to unleash their arsenal of unused cliches.

Tom Wicker in the 'New York Times' felt no need to hold back. "President Kennedy lifted the spirits of County Wexford today. He lifted them higher than they've been since the Rising of '98," the June 28 edition states.

JFK's return to the family home at Dunganstown, from which his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had left in 1848 to travel to the United States, was the centre of the trip for the international media, with pictures of him being embraced by his cousin Mary Ryan making front pages around the US and the UK.

Such was the degree of emotion involved in the day that one American photographer burst into tears, according to a local politician. Other members of the press were less hot-blooded and were left to wonder whether there really had been three direct lines to the White House installed at the farm for a half-hour visit.

The large-scale security presence – one estimate was that the garda force in Wexford was boosted to 25 times its size – also made a clear, if not always streamlined, presence.

"The president's security force has made its detailed reconnaissance and is confidently expected to be hiding in the busy branches of every surrounding tree, if its men can get up there before the photographers," said 'The Guardian'.

The 'New York Times' reported how the chairman of New Ross Council was dismayed when the public address system failed just as he was preparing to present the president. At fault was not the wiring but some over-zealous Secret Service men who had mistaken the battery for an incendiary device.

The president's speech to the Oireachtas brought about a "touching reconciliation", according to Robert H Estabrook in the 'Washington Post'.

"Sean T O'Kelly, former president of Ireland who retired in 1969, patted an ancient enemy, William T Cosgrave, on the back as he entered the parliament," he wrote, detailing how the two had become estranged since the Civil War.

The president's speech detailed how there were "no permanent enemies" in the world any more and was met with frequent applause. The 'Washington Post' noted there was no applause when he urged "in diplomatic language" that Ireland look more to the future and less to the past.

Vincent Ryder in the 'Daily Telegraph' called the speech, on the eve of Kennedy travelling to London, "an implicit vote of confidence in Britain's ability to let an American president dwell on past British treatment of Ireland without taking offence". "It was rather less of a vote of confidence in the Irish parliament's readiness to hear plain political talk," he wrote.

The trip was widely hailed as a success, despite some minor hiccups. But for some, JFK could do no right. The 'Daily Telegraph' reported how, outside Cork City Hall, the president had been accosted by "four angry Fitzgeralds", who had complained that he had made no mention of the local connections to his grandfather, John Fitzgerald, who was once mayor of Boston.

Irish Independent

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