A grand day out in New Ross
Memories of a day with JFK include a dry wit and an invitation to the White House, recalls Statia O’Leary
President Kennedy addresses the people of New Ross. Photograph: Robert Knudsen, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Statia O’Leary at the wall where she waited to see President Kennedy when he visited New Ross on June 27th, 1963. Photograph: Patrick Browne
I was part of a Macra na Feirme branch in Ferns at the time and we decided to combine the trip to see JFK with our day outing. I have a very vivid memory of driving towards New Ross and that we weren’t allowed into the field where he landed.
There is a wall by the road into town and we were told to sit on that wall. We saw the helicopter arriving in the field. A little while after, a big car with this absolutely gorgeous man standing up in it approached.
I have such a strong memory. He had that kind of a personality that came out at you, if you know what I mean. He looked at us, smiled and waved, and the girl beside me gave me a nudge with her elbow as she said he looked straight at her. She nearly knocked me off the wall.
We followed him into town and we were there for his speech in New Ross. I was 25 years old at the time and was much younger in outlook than 25-year-olds are today. The one thing I remember about the speech was that the old Albatros factory was still going and he pointed in the direction of it and said something like if his great- grandfather hadn’t left New Ross, he himself might be working there. He then said that if Éamon de Valera hadn’t left New York, de Valera might be in the White House instead of President Kennedy. That stuck in my mind always.
He also issued an invitation to us all to go and visit him in the White House.
Later on, I was included in a group that went to the White House. President Nixon was there at the time and his wife met us.
When President Kennedy was killed, it was shocking. I feel that if he hadn’t been killed so soon after his visit, the memory of it would have faded away. It seemed such an awful shame and a waste. It made the memory of him more vivid the fact he was gone.
While our local Macra is long gone, we are having a gathering in Ferns to mark the anniversary. I can’t remember if all the members of our group actually went on the day out back in 1963. I do know we went in cars at the time and that was our first stop on a day that included a lovely picnic. I was talking to a lady recently who was also on the trip and she remembered we came back to a dance in Adamstown that night, which had slipped my mind completely.
I mustn’t have met anyone memorable.
(In conversation with Brian O’Connell)