Sunday 18 March 2018

50 years on: Special JFK section recalls the four days of President's visit that captivated Ireland

Ciaran Byrne

President John F Kennedy bent down and gently taking the hand of six-year-old Kathleen Doyle, said: “Are those new shoes?”

In our special commemorative JFK section, you can find out what Kathleen replied to JFK as he visited Co Wexford in June 1963.

Now aged 55, Kathleen’ story is one of many fascinating memories included in our two-part magazine series called “JFK Stories”, which was published free with the Irish Independent. The series looks in detail at the momentous visit, its many participants and its legacy. Over the coming days, you will find all the content from the print magazines online.

With special contributions by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and JFK in Ireland author Ryan Tubridy as well as previously unseen archive photographs, 'JFK Stories' is a must-have souvenir.

From his arrival at Dublin airport on Wednesday, June 26, 1963, JFK, drew huge crowds wherever he travelled.

On Day Two, he embarked on a tour of Co Wexford – and a meeting with his cousins at the old Kennedy homestead in Dunganstown. You can watch an exclusive RTE clip of JFK in Wexford, here.

6-year-old Kathleen Doyle shakes hands with JFK on Thursday, June 27, 1963. Now 56, read Kathleen's story in JFK Stories this Saturday.
6-year-old Kathleen Doyle shakes hands with JFK on Thursday, June 27, 1963. Now 56, read Kathleen's story in JFK Stories this Saturday.

His great-grandfather Patrick had emigrated from there in 1835, landing in Boston where he found work as a cooper.

From the moment he greeted Mary Ryan, JFK felt right at home and enjoyed an extraordinary afternoon taking tea, eating cake and soaking up the acclaim in New Ross and Wexford.

The two JFK supplements that will appear on Saturday and Monday
The two JFK supplements that will appear on Saturday and Monday

We also bring you the remarkable story of the photographer who took many of the most iconic pictures on that day. Andy Farren, who founded the Lensmen photo agency, is now 94 and his memories of that day are as vivid as ever.

After returning to Dublin, JFK was entertained at a rowdy Aras an Uachtarain where President de Valera had organised a garden party. Read David McCullagh’s entertaining account of a lively afternoon when JFK was literally ‘mobbed’.

The president also visited Arbour Hill, was awarded the Freedom of Dublin and accepted honorary degrees from Trinity College and the National University of Ireland.

The centrepiece of JFK’s Irish visit on Day Three was a powerful speech in the Dail when he addressed both houses of the Oireachtas. You can read the speech in full while we also take a closer look at its contents with Brian Murphy, a speech writer to two Taoisigh. We also get the verdicts of the country’s top historians including Diarmaid Ferriter of UCD and Dr Dermot Keogh of UCC.

RTE is planning a major online exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary, beginning on June 19th. You can watch exclusive RTE clips here of the president speaking in New Ross and Wexford town and to the Dail.

Everywhere JFK went, ecstatic crowds greeted him and watched his every move. At times, he seemed almost overwhelmed by the adoration. In ‘JFK Stories’, gardai on dury that week share their memories while the Defence Forces military archives department share their memories of the trip and its planning.

Don Lavery’s father was in charge of the army’s motorcycle outriders and in ‘JFK Stories’, Don recalls the role his dad Jim played in protecting the president.

They were truly momentous days and the visit gave Ireland, weary from prolonged emigration and drab prospects, an injection of much-needed excitement.

At the heart of ‘JFK Stories’ are the first-hand memories of those who were there; the children who met him, the people who helped organise the events and the men and women who were on hand to record history.

We hope you enjoy their amazing stories.

We also go inside the secret state files on the visit with Dr Michael Kennedy of the Royal Irish Academy and editor of the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series. Find out about the security, the dress codes, the invitations and the food and drink on offer at the State dinner.

In Part Two, there is a wealth of extra material for the classroom with a quiz, background pieces and more stunning archive photographs covering JFK’s Irish visit.

We look at the presents he received, the media coverage (including some extraordinarily un-PC pieces in the foreign press) and hear from Congressman Joe Kennedy III, the only member of the Kennedy family in full-time politics.

“I am going to come back and see old Shannon's face again, “said President Kennedy as he left Shannon airport. Of course we all know that was not to be. He was assassinated in Dallas on November 22 that year. It had been a golden summer in Ireland and despite the tragedy of his death, JFK left behind a wealth of memories.

* Do you remember the President's visit to Ireland in 1963 or have  any photos you'd like to share of the momentous events? Send an email to and we will publish the best online.

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