Tuesday 20 March 2018

Chariots of ire - council minutes reveal some quirky plans for JFK visit

The minutes of the New Ross council
The minutes of the New Ross council
A memento donated to the New Ross Community Museum 1963 by Victor Hennessey.

Graham Clifford

President Kennedy would have boarded a chariot – to be pulled through the town of New Ross by 12 men – if Andy Minihan had had his way.

As news of President Kennedy's visit was released, the great and the good of New Ross started planning for his arrival.

Under the chairmanship of Mr Minihan, the town council set about drawing up a list of 'things to do' before he touched down – though some of the proposals raised eyebrows.

At a town council meeting on June 4, Chairman Minihan proposed that the president be paraded through the town on a chariot pulled by a dozen local men. The official minutes read: "The chairman suggested that the possibility of using a Landau pulled by 12 men to convey President Kennedy from John Street to the Quay should be investigated. This was agreed although Superintendent Walsh stated that it would be very improbable."

Councillors, angry that they would receive no financial assistance from the bodies of the State for the cost of celebrations, demanded some form of help.

The town clerk was directed to (contact) the Department of External Affairs and Bord Failte "asking that one or both . . . contribute . . . in view of the fact that the visit could be regarded (as having) more of a national rather than local interest".

Jobs were dished out in early June 1963 and New Ross was given a major facelift. Councillor PJ Fleming was named as chairman of the decorations committee and he told the council that he'd need a budget of at least £500 to get the town looking its best.

"He (Mr Fleming) also expressed the hope that the council truck would be available if required."

With no funding forthcoming, the local organisers had to be careful not to over-stretch themselves.

The warning went out that "the hiring of a marquee and engagement of a band would be very risky from the financial point of view."

An initial budget of £1,000 was drawn up to cover the costs of JFK's visit to New Ross. The major cost was connected to the provision of press facilities.

The cost of "hiring and the erection of a special stand" for the reporters, TV crews and photographers came to £400.

The public address system expense was a mere £20 while the entertainment committee had £300 to spend with which they were allowed to book bands, hire a marquee, erect protective barriers and advertise.

The council ruled out holding a door-to-door collection to raise money to cover the costs but instead made money off the nights in the marquee.

Local business people helped underwrite the expenses just in case revenue wasn't made.

Cllr Gerald Donovan, vice-chairman of the council, was chosen as the man to greet President Kennedy when he landed at O'Kennedy Park and hours were spent finalising the allocation of seats on the presidential platform.

In total, 103 passes were handed out – intriguingly two of those chosen were listed as "Old IRA Messers Patrick Murphy and Thomas O'Hanlon".

Others granted a ticket to the stage were the mayors of local cities and towns and their spouses, New Ross council members and staff, the harbour commissioners, a collection of clergy members and even the state solicitor.

Irish Independent

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