Sunday 25 February 2018

The seating plan

The seating plan and arrangements for the state banquet for President Kennedy's visit presented issues of precedence, rank, professional status and politics. Guests were allocated by precedence, alternating male-female-male-female, with where possible alternation also between Irish and American. As can be seen from the seating plan, husbands and wives were seated apart.

At the 'top table' President Kennedy was placed centrally as guest of honour with Taoiseach Seán Lemass on the President's left and Mrs Lemass on the President's right. This followed the established practice of placing the principal guest (Kennedy) on the host's (Lemass) right. As Mrs Kennedy had not accompanied her husband to Ireland, Mrs Eunice Shriver, as the principal female guest, was placed on Lemass' left. Guests then radiated outwards in order of precedence.

Prominent also at the top table in Kennedy's suite were Mrs Jean Kennedy Smith, Ambassador and Mrs Matthew McCloskey, Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke and Princess Lee Bouvier Radziwill. The Irish notables at the top table included several members of Lemass's cabinet, including the Tánaiste Seán MacEntee, Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken and Minister for Finance James Ryan, and also included Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Charles McQuaid and Leader of the Opposition James Dillon.

At the seven tables placed perpendicular to the top table were seated a wide range of Irish politicians, members of Kennedy's suite, senior religious figures from all denominations as well as a handful of specially invited guests and senior civil servants. These included former President of Ireland Seán T O'Ceallaigh (protocol dictated that President de Valera would not attend the state banquet), leader of the Labour Party Brendan Corish, Secretary of the Department of Finance and head of the civil service Dr T.K. Whitaker and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Lieutenant General McEoin.

It seems from the surviving plans that the order of precedence at these tables was that the most important guests were placed the closest to the top table. Interestingly two men who had done so much to plan the visit sat beside each other during the meal - Secretary of the Department of External Affairs Hugh McCann and Kennedy's Press Secretary Pierre Salinger.

DR MICHAEL KENNEDY

*Seating plan and menu courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland

Irish Independent

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