The Guards and Jack
From the time President Eamon de Valera issued his formal invitation on March 27, 1963 to the American President, An Garda Síochána, under Commissioner Daniel Costigan, had a crucial role to play.
They were involved in intense planning, dealing with issues such as security, traffic and transport for all the locations – Dublin, New Ross, Dunganstown, Wexford, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Shannon Airport. These are their memories.
1 Dublin Airport
On Wednesday June 26, hundreds of Garda personnel were drafted from all parts of Ireland to perform security and traffic duties for JFK's arrival at Dublin Airport followed by his journey in an open-top car via O'Connell Street on route to Áras an Uachtarán and the American Ambassador's residence in Phoenix Park. Buses were hired from CIE and extra trains were used to transport Gardaí to various locations. The photograph of the four gardai from Finglas Garda Station was taken at Dublin Airport.
Marie Landy, from Galway, was able to identify the gardaí in the photo: (L-R.) Gda Benny Reilly, Gda Mick Neary, Gda Jim O' Connor and her late husband Gda Tom Landy.
Marie recalls that at the time she was married, times were tough and she had no TV to view the momentous events of the historic occasion where her young husband was playing a vital security role. A day or two later she observed this Irish Independent photo and purchased a copy for the family album. Gda. Tom Landy a native of Mullinahone, Co Tipperary joined the Garda in 1957, was promoted 10 years later and retired in 1993. His untimely death occurred within three years of retirement.
2 Galway Motorcycle Escort
Seven members from the Garda motor-cycle unit at Garda HQ headed by Station-Sergeant Mick O'Brien (later promoted Supt. Garda Traffic Division) were detailed to escort President Kennedy from the time of his arrival at Dublin Airport to his departure at Shannon Airport. The Irish Independent's black and white photograph of the Garda Motorcycle Escort in Galway captures the calibre of the gardaí selected. We can see the fine Garda motorcycles the force had 50 years ago and, thanks to Retired Supt. Ray Campion (Dublin), we are able to confirm the names of all seven motorcyclists: On President Kennedy's left: Station-Sgt. Mick O' Brien; Gda. Tom Gilleran; Gda. Tom O' Loughlin; Gda. Barney O' Reilly.
On President Kennedy's right are: Gda. John Connaghtan, Gda. Gerry O' Connor and Gda. Pat Lynch.
Garda Peter J. Peyton, stationed in Galway since 1977, confirmed the photo was taken in Foster Street, Galway.
3 JFK's Lost Ring
Donegal native, Seamus McMahon, was a Detective Sergeant in Dublin in 1963. He remembers being on duty at Dublin Airport for the President's arrival and being close to the cavalcade as it proceeded from the airport via O'Connell Street to Áras an Uachtarán and the Ambassador's residence in Phoenix Park. The following day, he accompanied the US President to New Ross, Dunganstown and Wexford.
Later that same day the Irish President hosted a garden party in the Áras and McMahon was involved in escorting JFK to the State Dinner at Iveagh House. On arrival at St Stephen's Green, hundreds of spectators approached the president's car to shake his hand. Séamus recalls that a ring slipped off one of the President's fingers and fell on the roadway. Unfortunately, the ring could not be found, despite the search efforts of those in the cavalcade. The question remains to this day, was the ring ever found and, if so, did that person know they were in possession of a precious JFK souvenir?
4 A Present from the president
In 1963, Det/Gda. Dave O'Donnell was based at Midleton Garda Station. Along with a photograph of Dave with President Kennedy, the O'Donnell family hold another memento of the visit dear: a tie-pin, inscribed with PT-109, the number of JFK's wartime torpedo boat, which was presented to Det Gda O'Donnell by the president.
5 The Rebel County
Ancestors on the Fitzgerald side of JFK's family came from west Cork, and so Cork city was included in his itinerary. Prior to his visit to receive the Freedom of Cork, many Corkonians were claiming to be related to the president in the hope of getting a pass to the ceremony at Cork City Hall.
Christy Harrington was a member of the large contingent of uniform gardaí who assembled in Collins Army Barracks for the President's arrival by helicopter. He remembers with laughter that many garda caps went flying in the air as the helicopter touched down on Cork soil.
6 All roads lead to Cork
Brendan Sheehan was a newly promoted garda sergeant stationed in Waterville, Co Kerry, when JFK visited Ireland. After a hard journey from Co Kerry, the bus with 45 gardai on board gave up the ghost outside Mallow. Three long hours later, a replacement bus transported them to the Arcadia Ballroom opposite Kent Rail Station. Being late for detail was bad enough, but to make matters worse, almost 600 gardaí had already assembled and eaten breakfast. Only scraps remained and many of the Kerry gardaí were upset when they were ordered to move quickly and get out on duty. There's never any sympathy in Cork for a hungry Kerryman. Sgt Sheehan was detailed for Parnell Bridge, within yards of Cork City Hall. When President Kennedy's cavalcade arrived, stamina and strength were required and the young gardaí were not found wanting, despite their empty stomachs. The Kerry gardaí eventually had their feed, when their duty was done.
7 The broken-down limo
In 1963 Gda Jim O'Donovan was stationed at Union Quay Station. Jim recalls minding President Kennedy's car for a few hours in the backyard of the station. The yard was surrounded by an 8-foot high wall with a large corrugated gateway. Pat O'Meara, who retired 15 years ago as a garda supt, was also stationed in Union Quay at the time and remembers the President's limo being stored overnight. The following morning, there was some panic when JFK's car failed to start. The responsibility of finding a replacement vehicle fell to Inspector Joe Ainsworth, in charge of the Cork operation. Within 20 minutes, the inspector had sourced a 1937 Rolls Royce, with side foot-boards, from O' Connor's Funeral-Home, in Corbury Street. Finally ready for departure, Gda Jim O' Donovan travelled in the leading garda car ahead of the President's cavalcade to Collins Army Barracks.
8 On the beat
Jim Browne, a retired detective sergeant, was a garda recruit stationed in McCurtain Street, Cork in 1963. He was detailed for traffic duty in Water Street. From here, his only glimpse of the action was of the president's helicopter. Any disappointment was mitigated by the fact that he had the previous day travelled by bus with Cork gardaí to assist in protecting the president in New Ross and Dunganstown. Noel Breen was a young garda on duty at Clontarf Bridge, close to Cork City Hall. The old iron-structure was built for trains to travel over, but for JFKs visit hundreds of people climbed it to get a bird's-eye view of City Hall.
9 New Ross
In June 1963, Willie Doyle was a patrol-car driver in Cork city. He remembers Inspector Ainsworth putting the Cork force on high alert throughout the night. Due to the shortage of garda drivers in Cork, Wille was not detailed to travel with the Cork gardaí to his native Wexford. But his younger brother Seán, also to become a garda, went to New Ross to see JFK and returned home having shaken his hand.
Greg Mulkeen, a young garda from Mayo, was stationed in the Bridewell, Cork. He directed traffic at Singer's Corner on Cork's Grand Parade, where there was much excitement. Afterwards, he followed the cavalcade and assisted with crowd control near City Hall.
The following morning, a bus load of Cork gardaí headed for Shannon Airport, with Gda Mulkeen on board. They assembled on the airport runway and formed a security circle around Air Force One until the president boarded and waved goodbye.
Terry Kelly was a great Cork centre-field hurler in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He retired as a supt in 1994, but was a young garda sergeant in Union Quay Station at the time of JFKs visit.
He performed crowd control duty at Cork City Hall and on Saturday he was in charge of gardaí travelling by bus to Shannon Airport. Kelly, found JFK's speeches to be very motivational and was convinced that this inspiration would bear fruit in Limerick, where Cork was due to play Tipperary in the Munster Hurling semi-final, a day after the US President's departure.
However, Tipperary beat Cork by five points.
11 John Jr
Garda Tony Ruane was more interested in the slick-looking suede boots in a shop window on Westmoreland Street than in the approaching presidential motorcade.
The just-qualified Mayo garda had been drafted in from Rathmines for the day of the president's arrival to a crowded but peaceful city centre.
"I can remember the crowd was very welcoming and excited. I had no interest in John F Kennedy at the time, nor in American politics, but from that day on I was totally consumed by him," he recalled.
The boots in the window had a price tag of 39 shillings and six pence, and Gda Ruane was just making a mental note to purchase them with his next pay cheque when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"It was my inspector. He spun me around and said, 'Do you realise that the president of the United States is going to pass here at any moment and you are bleepin' well window shopping?'," recalled the now-retired garda detective.
In 1966, Tony joined the Special Branch and was part of the unit to provide protection for President Kennedy's widow Jackie and children when they stayed at Woodstown House in Waterford in 1967.
"There was a heatwave and we spent six sizzling weeks down in Waterford.
"It was a lucky assignment. I really enjoyed it. I carried John on my shoulders. He was six at the time. He used to come out sometimes to play. We had to mind them and make sure they weren't kidnapped.
"He was a lovely little lad, very perky, very witty. He was just a typical young lad and she was a lovely person, a very ordinary person to deal with. They had a good time. They enjoyed themselves, I'd say," he said.
12 All in the family
"You're here to mind me for the day?" asked President Kennedy with a wry smile. His cousin Pat Kirwan, then a 20-year-old Garda recruit in uniform at Dunganstown, replied "Yes, of course."
Pat, whose mother Margaret (Kennedy) was a sister of Mary Ryans, was the first and last member of the family to see the President on his Irish visit in 1963.
When JFK arrived in Dublin Pat worked on crowd and traffic control on Dame Street spotting his cousin as he passed. After the Dunganstown meeting he also set eyes on the President in Galway two days later.
"At the time all Garda leave was cancelled because of President Kennedy's visit. It was all hands on deck. They made a concession for me though because of my connection to the President.
A startled Patrick, who grew up in Enniscorthy, recalls his surprise on reaching the farmyard at Dunganstown. "In the yard there were three different telephones. Just inside the gate by the cow house was a red one. I went over to look at it and was confronted by a secret service man who said "don't you dare touch it, that's a direct line to the White House."
When he arrived at the house his grandmother Mary and cousins Josie (with whom he was particularly close) and Mary Ann didn't recognise him.
Later that evening the family, who didn't own a TV set, went to a friend's home in New Ross to watch the 10 o'clock news on RTÉ.
"I heard Micheal O'Hehir call out my name that night" recalls Pat. "He said 'here's the newest recruit from the depot - who came down to mind his cousin from America'".
The author is a retired sergeAnt and Cork City Branch Secretary of the Garda Siochana Retired Members Association.