Tuesday 24 April 2018

When Sean Lemass insisted on wearing a lounge suit...

With Seán Lemass at Arbour Hill
With Seán Lemass at Arbour Hill
A cable on party dress code
A note in which Mr Lemass puts his foot down, rejecting jacket and striped trousers for a dark lounge suit.

Clearly, there was a huge effort to ensure that the reception given to Kennedy would be on a scale not witnessed for any previous visitor, but it seems that caution and cost consciousness still prevailed in some quarters.

A few days before the president arrived, the Office of Public Works decided not to lay a red carpet on the tarmac at Dublin Airport because it was worried that it might rain and ruin the carpet "at a total cost of £250".

Files from the National Archives in relation to the visit also reveal considerable concern about dress and appearance. Gardai were told by the Assistant Garda Commissioner, Patrick Carroll, that they were to wear their "best serge uniform" and that those who did not have the most recently issued uniform "will be detailed for duty to places away from the presidential route".

Taoiseach Sean Lemass was more concerned about appropriate dress for JFK's arrival at Dublin airport and the garden party in Aras an Uachtaráin. The invitation had given guests a choice between "morning dress or lounge suit" despite Kennedy's preference for the lounge suit option.

Kennedy also asked for white tie dress for the Iveagh House dinner, which caused concern, as dress hire shops would not have sufficient quantities. One thing however, that was common to both then and now, was the infuriatingly unpredictable Irish weather.

Lemass asked for a weather forecast for the days of the visit and the response from the Met Office expert was hardly reassuring: the Met Office "was sure at first Thursday would be bad, but there is now some possibility it will be good.

"For Friday and Saturday, the weather generally is too unsettled to give any view, but he feels that if Thursday is good, Friday will be bad". In relation to the embarrassment of the rain-sodden garden party at the Aras, one newspaper contrasted the "poorest of the poor" who had lined the streets of Dublin to greet JFK with the "men in the top hats and their women in their expensive finery who pushed, scrambled and actually came to blows in their efforts to mob the guest."

Class distinctions were alive and well in 1960s Ireland. Of more immediate concern to Kennedy was the limited supply of hot water; when he got back to the US Embassy after the garden party he was hoping for a bath to ease the pain in his back, but his sisters had got back first and used up all the hot water.

Irish Independent

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