Tuesday 21 November 2017

Maverick mayor who charmed the president

Shoulder to shoulder: Mayor Andy Minihan stands alongside President Kennedy in New Ross.
Shoulder to shoulder: Mayor Andy Minihan stands alongside President Kennedy in New Ross.
President John F. Kennedy stands at a podium and delivers a speech to a large crowd of spectators and cameramen during his trip to New Ross
Andy Minihan's son Mark with a sculpture of the podium in New Ross

Graham Clifford

'We're in right trouble now" – the immortal words of the mercurial Andy Minihan seconds before US President John F Kennedy took to the stage on the quayside in New Ross.

The town council chairman had defied the Ministry for External Affairs and the US embassy in Dublin by selecting a local electrician rather than a large firm from the capital to look after the PA system – and as he tested the microphone, it was dead.

"My father decided that local man Gerald Ward would do the public address. He'd operated it at local regattas or to tell the people when the council would be switching off the water," explains Mark Minihan, Andy's son.

"It nearly all went pear-shaped though. The television microphones picked up Andy shouting, 'Are you there Mr Ward?' He was trying to find him so he could fix the problem.

"They reckon some fella in a gabardine coat had pulled an auld clip off a bank of batteries and the whole thing went dead – meanwhile your man (JFK) was turning at the bridge on his way down to the stage."

Thankfully by the time Mr Kennedy shook hands with the roguish Minihan, full service was resumed and in its finest hour New Ross would be seen to play a blinder.

Andy designed Mr Kennedy's visit to the town of his ancestors on mostly his own terms.

Mark recalls: "The council were told there was no way the pipe band could be situated in front of the stage because if anything happened to JFK, the secret service would need to be able to get him out of there quickly.

"But, sure, Andy had them assembled up the street and when word came that the president was on his way, the band started marching and playing through the streets anyway.

"That slowed him (JFK) down even more and meant everyone got to see him properly."

According to Andy, who was born in Skibbereen but grew up in Glasgow, this wasn't the first time he'd encountered an iconic figure.

"He always said that when he was a boy he sat on Michael Collins's knee," says Mark.

A business opportunity brought Andy back to Ireland in 1936 and he became involved in a number of enterprises in New Ross, including central heating.

In 1954 he was elected to both the town and county councils while also serving with the local FCA and the Harbour Commissioners.

On the Fianna Fail ticket he lasted two terms in the county council but represented the town until 1973.

On the morning of the presidential visit Andy encountered a regular problem. "He couldn't find a pair socks, it was always happening to him. When he went to Kennedy's funeral he had no black socks either, he had to borrow a pair off the RTE TV presenter Cathal O'Shannon," laughs Mark.

With the PA system back up and running, the president successfully chauffeured to quayside and black socks acquired, Andy extended his hand to welcome John F Kennedy to New Ross.

The pair hit it off immediately with Andy's gift of a piece of rock from the Giant's Causeway and the line, "the mountain has been brought to Mohamet" going down especially well with the clearly elated president.

No other figure instigated such spontaneous laughter and giddiness from Mr Kennedy on his Irish trip as Andy Minihan.

Later that day in Wexford town, Andy Minihan is said to have arranged the most unlikely of unscheduled stops on the president's trip.

"Andy used to say that Mother Clement in Wexford was his first girlfriend. Her name was Floree Ward before she became a nun. She was from West Cork too and was a distant relation of the president. My father met her before the visit and told her, 'Sure I'll get him (JFK) to stop and pop in (to the Loreto convent in the town) to say hello' – and sure enough he did."

In the months and years after the 1963 visit Andy was welcomed to the USA and was guest of honour at numerous St Patrick's Day parades. He became an occasional contributor on 'The Late Late Show'.

At the funeral of John F Kennedy, he met with the late president's family as well as Lyndon Johnson.

Andy died in 1989 – five years after the passing of his wife, Nan.

"Oh he was a larger-than-life character all right," remembers Mark. "He had a scant regard for authority, but JFK enjoyed him."

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life