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JFK's hand of friendship now immortalised in home town

IT was the day JFK extended the hand of friendship to his Irish ancestors and stole our hearts away.

And yesterday, New Ross proudly recalled a glorious June day in 1963 when Camelot came to the Co Wexford town.

Central to the celebration was the unveiling of a bronze statue of John F Kennedy on New Ross's quayside -- somewhat amazingly, it is the first life-size statue of the US president to be erected in Ireland.

And fittingly, the former US president is immortalised with his arm extended to shake hands.

Forty-five years after his historic visit, the golden memories of US President John F Kennedy -- then at the height of his considerable powers -- publicly extolling his Wexford ancestry still brings enormous pride to the residents of the town.


The late president's sister, former ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, was guest of honour in New Ross as a special series of events were staged to commemorate the memory of her brother and his famous June 27, 1963, visit to the town.

The new statue was commissioned by New Ross Town Council and sculpted by Kells artist, Ann Meldon Hugh.

New Ross Town Council chairman, Cllr Ray Lawlor, said President Kennedy remarked that it took his family 115 years and three generations to make the return journey to the Wexford town. But he acknowledged it was remiss that it took New Ross 45 years to erect a statue to the great president's memory.

"The speech that President Kennedy gave on the quayside in New Ross is etched not just in the memories of people here but in the hearts of Irish people everywhere," he said.

Fittingly, the statue was unveiled after a ceremony hosted yesterday by broadcaster Gay Byrne -- who covered President Kennedy's New Ross address as a young RTE reporter.

"I was there on the actual day of President Kennedy's visit to New Ross as a young man -- and, to this day, it is burned into my memory as one of the great events in Irish history," he told the Irish Independent.

"He stole our hearts away that day," Mr Byrne told the crowd of over 1,000.

Mrs Kennedy Smith thanked New Ross for the honour bestowed on her brother and her family. "This is a very special day for all of us and we are honoured by this tribute," she said.

She acknowledged that while it was a happy day, it was also tinged with sadness.


Ms Meldon Hugh said she was "absolutely thrilled" to have won the statue commission.

In another fitting irony, the statue of the most famous product of Irish emigration is located on Charles Street dock where President Kennedy delivered his famous address -- just metres from the Dunbrody Famine Ship replica.

Local politicians stressed that John F Kennedy's 1963 visit remains a source of enormous pride in New Ross, Wexford and Ireland.

"It is only right that New Ross should be the focus for the 45th anniversary celebrations of John F Kennedy's visit to Ireland as it was the home place of his family," Deputy Sean Connick (FF) said.

"I know that Jean Kennedy Smith has been looking forward to her return to New Ross, and I was delighted to extend the invitation to her," he said.

"John F Kennedy's legacy is one that has endured beyond all expectation. His leadership and vision changed the way in which people all over the world viewed politics. He was an inspiration and will continue to be so," Deputy Connick added.

Other events organised as part of the Kennedy weekend include a special exhibition of photographs in St Michael's Theatre, a symposium to discuss both the Kennedy legacy and the Irish-American diaspora and a special visit to the Kennedy homestead.

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