Monday 23 April 2018

Limerick's persistent lady

One mayor was not for turning on JFK, reports Anita Guidera

Major Frances Condell welcomed JFK and Taoiseach Sean Lemass to Limerick
Major Frances Condell welcomed JFK and Taoiseach Sean Lemass to Limerick
Farewell: JFK says goodbye to Ireland

Not only did the mayor of Limerick orchestrate the visit of JFK to Limerick and deliver his favourite speech of the trip, but she even designed her own hat for the auspicious occasion.

Frances Condell, the first female mayor in Limerick's 750-year-long history, even had her term of office extended to receive the US president.

And when the Borough Council met to elect a new mayor days later she was surprisingly elected for a second term.

Frances Condell had pestered US Ambassador Matthew McCloskey to include Limerick in the president's tight itinerary to such a degree that he was said to remark, "Heaven protect me from a persistent woman."

An eleventh-hour change to schedule meant Limerick was included, to the delight of the 6,000-plus people who turned out in Limerick Racecourse to greet him.

The visit secured, a quick-thinking mayor who had visited Cork the previous day, commandeered the flower displays of the US flag and words of greeting in City Hall and arranged for them to be dispatched by the army to Limerick Racecourse for the following day.

The move was not lost on the US president who jovially remarked, "Haven't I seen them somewhere before", as he stepped onto the platform.

"Yes, Sir, we borrowed it. We knew you liked it so well," came the mayor's quick reply.

The president's strong family connection with the village of Bruff was borne out by the fact that 46 cousins were among the crowd that turned out to welcome him home.

Gesturing good humouredly to one of them and asking him to stand up, President Kennedy said he looked "just like Grandpa".

Frances Condell was the only woman in an official position to speak during the four days and Mr Kennedy described it as the best speech of the entire trip to Europe.

In the speech, the so-called 'housewife mayor of Limerick' made reference to motherhood and the fact that the president's wife was pregnant back in the US.

"We mothers, especially Sir, only excuse you not bringing your charming Jackie with you to Ireland for the excellent reason that she had for staying at home," she said.

She even commissioned local nuns to make a lace christening gown for the new baby, which sadly did not survive.

And she flattered him when she said: "We claim the Fitzgerald in you and are extremely proud of your heritage."

She bestowed on him the honorary freedom of the city of Limerick, "in our full recognition of the great honour you have done us in coming to visit us and in support of your distinguished leadership in aims vital, necessary, united and determined".

The president brushed aside protocol to shake hands with hundreds of well-wishers before departing the Greenpark Racecourse for Shannon Airport.

Before departing Irish shores, President Kennedy quoted someone he described as one of the most extraordinary women, Sinead Bean de Valera, who had quoted him the following lines of a poem:

"Tis the Shannon's bright glancing stream brightly gleaming/Silent in the morning beam, oh! The sight entrancing/Thus return from travels long, years of exile, years of pain to see old Shannon's face again, O'er the waters glancing."

"Well I am going to come back and see old Shannon's face again," he said.

*The president's departure from Shannon is featured in part two of 'JFK Stories'.

Irish Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life