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Town buzzing ahead of Kennedys' return

"I want to express my pleasure at being back from whence I came."

These were the words uttered by JFK during his visit to the Wexford town from which his great-grandparents emigrated to America.

As he uttered these words, the thousands that had flocked to see him knew it would be a memory they would forever hold dear.

Half a century on, JFK's appearance and famous speech will be recalled this weekend. And New Ross is ready.

In fact, they have been eagerly preparing months in advance for the JFK50 Homecoming Celebrations.

Along the newly renovated quayside, the Stars and Stripes flies alongside Wexford flags in eager anticipation of this Saturday's celebrations.

Caroline Kennedy, JFK's daughter, and Jean Kennedy Smith, his younger sister and former US Ambassador to Ireland, will be among the two Kennedy family members overseeing the New Ross celebrations over the weekend.

On the ground already, there is much to see. JFK marvelled at New Ross back in 1963 – and his memory still captivates the Co Wexford town. A podium commemorating the spot where he gave his speech glistens in the afternoon sunlight on the quay which cost more than €2.5m to rebuild.

Freshly cleaned shop windows sparkled and colourful bunting hangs from roofs and doors.

As well as 30 members of the Kennedy family, senior politicians, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and a host of well-known names will among the thousands expected to visit New Ross tomorrow.

They will be treated to a day of events, in particular, the lighting of the Emigrant Flame on the New Ross quay-front.

JFK's sister Jean Kennedy Smith will carry the Emigrant Flame from the LE Orla at 6pm and present it to the Taoiseach.

A number of Irish personalities, including Riverdance star Michael Flatley, rugby pundit George Hook and retired RTE broadcaster Anne Doyle, who is from nearby Ferns, will be on hand to help narrate the two-hour ceremony. "The build-up here has been something else and it has already done so much for helping to rebuild New Ross," town engineer James Whelan said.

"The quay was under construction for one year and was a huge project for the town council and Bord Failte, which involved building a new plaza area and a new boardwalk on the canal," he added.



Just 100 steps from where the president gave his famous speech is the dock where his great grandfather Patrick set sail for America in 1848. The town's population of 8,000 is expecting to be swelled by up to 20,000 tourists.

Town councillor Victor Furness has fond memories of the visit in 1963 when, as a 13-year-old, he was a member of the choir that serenaded the president.

"There were 600 of us chosen and we spent two months practising two songs, two to three times per week," said Mr Furness. "It is something that you never forget – we sang the Boys Of Wexford and he sang along with us, then we ran after him down the hill," he laughed.

James Fitzgibbon (84) was a member of the New Ross Fire Brigade that provided cover for the president's helicopter in June 1963.

"I remember watching him getting out of the helicopter and thinking he was a stunning man," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Mr Fitzgibbon, whose daughter Niamh flew to New York to collect the Emigration Flame, will watch Saturday's event with his family, while 17 members of the choir that sang for the president will take part in the parade.

Business is booming in the town. Emma McHale, who runs In Water florists, said: "I have been preparing floral arrangements for the Kennedy Gala Dinner in the Brandon Hotel and for the party in Dunganstown so I have been run off my feet."

Handyman Billy Redmond has been busy painting and preparing businesses for the big day. "There will be great fun had here this weekend and I'm sure the pubs will be packed to bursting," he said.