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Tuesday 12 December 2017

The Irish angle

Limerick Leader
Limerick Leader
Galway: JFK greets a crowd of excited schoolgirls as he visited the city.
Connacht Tribune
Southern Star

Ronan Abayawickrema

Journalism is "the first rough draft of history", according to a remark attributed to 'Washington Post' publisher Philip Graham, and Irish newspapers certainly seem to have viewed John F Kennedy's visit in June, 1963 in this light.

'History will be made this evening', proclaimed a headline in the June 26, 1963 edition of the Irish Independent, heralding the arrival of the US president later that day. The anticipation of momentous events is clear. "Flag-bedecked Dublin will rise to the occasion as never before and tens of thousands of eager spectators will throng the eight-mile presidential route from the Airport".

National daily papers like the Irish Independent and the 'Irish Press' took full advantage of being able to splash the latest news of Kennedy's visit on their front pages each day. For example, the June 27 edition of the Irish Independent saw the US leader's procession from Dublin Airport into the centre of the city the previous evening as "a march of triumph all the way".

The Eamon de Valera-founded 'Press', meanwhile, read a very clear message into President Kennedy's visit to the burial place of the 1916 Rising leaders at Arbour Hill. "The short, dignified ceremony was eloquent testimony to the interest which the American people have always taken in Ireland's fight for freedom," a staff reporter wrote in the June 29 edition.

Local papers published weekly were at a disadvantage when reporting the US presidential visit – in many cases, the edition in the week of the visit was published before Kennedy had come to their area, with the following issue not coming out until nearly a week after the president had left the country.

Nevertheless, they shared the nationals' sense that history was taking place that week. Anticipating Kennedy's arrival in Galway later that day, an editorial in the June 29 'Connacht Tribune' stressed the national import of the US president's Irish visit.

"He is the first leader of a great power to visit a free Ireland, or, more correctly, that part of it that is free."

Yet a letter to the same paper the following week highlighted one of the few parts of Kennedy's Irish trip to attract some negative press.

Referring to Mayor of Galway Patrick Ryan's decision to make the speech welcoming the president solely in Irish, JF Doyle wrote: "The reading of a long address in Irish to a person of prominence who understands only three words . . . shows little consideration for him."

The June 28 'Munster Express' saw JFK's visit to New Ross as simply the "homecoming of President Kennedy". Like many regional papers, its coverage was rich in detail on the local dignitaries in attendance and the gifts presented to the president, such as a bowl engraved with scenes from his family history, from the port's harbourmasters.

Looking forward to Kennedy's arrival in Limerick the next day, meanwhile, the June 29 'Limerick Leader' stressed his maternal links to the county, which were less feted than his Wexford heritage.

Curiously, of all the newspapers reviewed for this feature, the 'Southern Star' was the least excited about the presidential visit – perhaps because Kennedy wasn't coming to its Skibbereen, Co Cork base. However, its front page on June 29 does report on his visit to Cork city the previous day, while stressing that all members of Skibbereen urban council were in attendance, in honour of JFK's family connection to the town.

Irish Independent

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