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Sunday 17 December 2017

'In the picture that's in the house, I'm number 69...'

A retired TD tells Fiach Kelly of a great day

SEAMUS Pattison, now 77, was a relatively new TD when he watched JFK deliver his address to the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1963.

Mr Pattison, a deputy for Carlow-Kilkenny who went on to become Ceann Comhairle, is one of the few surviving TDs or senators from that day. He was elected in 1961.

"I remember vaguely travelling to Dublin; because I seldom at that stage stayed in Dublin overnight, I travelled up and down," Mr Pattison, who only retired in 2007, said. "There was nothing extraordinary about travelling. I drove up. There certainly wasn't the type of security arrangements that would be necessary now. There was a bit of traffic control and that, but just a minor thing."

He remembers a "great air of excitement" as President Kennedy made his speech in the Dail chamber.

"He was genuinely proud of the fact he was Irish," Mr Pattison said, who remembered the feeling around Leinster House was that the president would help "Ireland in any way he could".

"We were all to be in the chamber before he arrived. I can't remember whether we were allocated particular seats. The parties were occupying the seats they generally occupied when the Dail was sitting."

Some pictures of the speech show the entire chamber, with a number beside each attendee.

"In the picture that's in the house, I'm number 69," Mr Pattison said.

"Right on his left-hand side as he spoke was Sean Lemass, there was Sean McEntee and there was Jim Ryan of Wexford, Frank Aiken, Paddy Smith, Erskine Childers.

"Those were all people who took an active part in the War of Independence and the Civil War and, opposite them, these were people who shot at each other a few years before. Dan Breen was sitting up. James Dillon was leader of the opposition.

"Looking up at the gallery, William T Cosgrave, the old man Cosgrave, he was there that day, who was leader of the Government from the 10 years since the foundation of the State."

While Mr Pattison says President Kennedy's speech has been "quoted over again", the appreciation from all sides of the chamber struck him that day.

"The other historical aspect of it was the conflict between people in that chamber. It seemed a long time back but now, looking back on it, it strikes you."

In his later role as Ceann Comhairle, he presented a picture of the president delivering the speech to senator Ted Kennedy, JFK's younger brother.

But Mr Pattison's abiding memory of that day in 1963 was a "scrum" at a garden party in Aras an Uachtarain.

'We went from the Dail sitting up to the Phoenix Park and Aras an Uachtarain. There was a garden party, which was mainly, I suppose, arranged to facilitate the wives of other guests like diplomatic people.

"What I remember about that is we were sitting around and standing around the lawn in Aras an Uachtarain; there was strawberries and cream.

"We were waiting anxiously in the lawn for the president and Mr De Valera. When they came out, there was a mad rush; the jars of strawberries and cream went flying around the place because everyone wanted to shake his hand.

"It was like a scrum, you just stuck in your hand and hope you made contact. I was never sure whether my hand touched some bit of flesh of President Kennedy. I always hoped it did."

Irish Independent

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