Kennedys return to place where story began
Family's Eternal Flame lights up nationJoy at visit to ancestral land after 50 years
THEIR visit had the air of a pilgrimage and they brought with them the Eternal Flame which burns at the grave of John F Kennedy.
However, the real 'eternal flame' was alive in the startling Kennedy family resemblance in the faces of Caroline Kennedy's three children.
Fifty years after her father's iconic visit to these shores, the only surviving child of the US President was back to play her own part in making history, bringing her husband Edwin Schlossberg, their two daughters Rose (24) and Tatiana (23) and their son Jack (20).
They were joined by a large gathering of around 30 members of the extended Kennedy and Fitzgerald clan as they attended events commemorating JFK's trip here in 1963.
Their first port of call was to the Aras an Uachtarain to join President Michael D Higgins, his wife Sabina and their daughter Alice Mary at a reception.
The families stood in the sun on the steps of the Aras garden, chatting pleasantly about studies, their mutual love of New York and family matters, as they posed for photographs.
Stylishly dressed in a light print suit of cream and brown and nude heels, Caroline thanked the President for the invitation.
Both her daughters, but particularly Rose, have a marked resemblance to their grandmother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, while the young Jack is the handsome successor to his late uncle, John Junior, with his trademark thick, dark Kennedy hair.
In a fortunately timely coincidence, Aras staff recently unearthed an extremely valuable bronze bust of JFK 'lost' for many years.
The bust was sculpted by world-renowned artist Felix de Weldon – whose most famous work is the Iwo Jima Memorial of five US marines and a sailor raising the flag of the United States.
A twin of the JFK bust is exhibited at the Kennedy Library in Boston.
OPW notes show the Aras version was presented to President Eamon de Valera on November 2, 1967, by the artist himself, though the plaque under the bust is dated June 1967.
It is thought to be linked with the visit of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her children that year.
However, the bust had since disappeared from public view and it is thought that one of the Presidents – perhaps even de Valera himself – may have taken a dislike to it and banished it to a dark hall upstairs, where it languished, forgotten.
After the Aras reception, the Kennedy family were off to the National Library of Ireland, where they officially opened the new JFK Homecoming exhibition.
"My father was a student of history and he would be proud that he has become a part of Irish history as well as America's," Caroline told guests at the launch, amongst them US congressman Patrick Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.
She said her father had "always looked to the future, confident that the young generations would dedicate themselves to solving the challenges of their time".
Tatiana Schlossberg, her young voice faltering touchingly, gave a speech in which she said she was honoured and humbled to be present.
She said her whole family owed a lot to their Irish heritage, quipping: "Our good looks, our humour, our intelligence and of course our humility."
"I think President Kennedy would be so pleased by this exhibit," she said, adding that it presented "an interesting interaction between memory and the future."
"I'm so happy to be able to stand here with my family and all of you and honour my grandfather here in the capital city of the island nation where his story and all of our stories began," she said.
Mr Deenihan said JFK's visit had left an "indelible mark" on Ireland, after half-a-million Irish people had emigrated the previous decade.
After his election, "being Irish in America was a badge of pride".
After he presented Caroline with an official certificate of Irish heritage, clearly moved, she turned to her children, mouthing: "I'm blown over."
"Now it's official," said son Jack, as the family left to go on to a private reception at the US embassy.
Afterwards, former international show jumper, Kevin Barry – a cousin of the Kennedys' – told of a visit by Jacqueline Kennedy and her children in 1967 to their home in Adare, Co Limerick.
Old photos showed little "John John" on the back of Kevin's pony, Danny Boy.
His mother, Imelda, had presented the Kennedys with a springer puppy, Shannon, which they had taken with them back to America.
Caroline and her family will today visit Bruff in Co Limerick, as she investigates the origins of the Fitzgerald branch of the family.
JFK's fourth cousin, Mike Fitzgerald, said they always knew there was a family connection but only traced it properly this year.
The Eternal Flame taken from JFK's graveside at Arlington National Cemetery will be taken on board the naval ship LE Orla today, sailing up the River Barrow and into New Ross – the President's ancestral homeland, to form part of the JFK50 celebrations on Saturday. See www.jfk50ireland.com