He sang ‘Boys of Wexford’ with us
Victor Furness was one of 600 children chosen to sing for JFK in New Ross – and among 21 selected to sing ‘The Boys of Wexford’ on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ a year after his death
New Ross choir members who sang for President Kennedy before they travelled to the US in 1964 to sing on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Victor Furness points himself out (back row, second from left) in a photograph of New Ross choir members taken before they travelled to the US in 1964 to sing on The Ed Sullivsan Show. photograph: Mary Browne
We were in the GAA park in New Ross to meet the president. About 600 kids were chosen to be part of a choir to sing for him, and I was one of them.
We were all excited and dressed in whites including slippers and trousers. The only thing we knew about JFK was his photo on the wall, beside the pope’s. He was an icon. We heard a roar and saw two green machines coming in from the sky and we saw guys with long coats coming out of the machines.
Next thing we heard another loud noise and we thought it was something from outer space coming down. It landed in the middle of the park and we waited for the doors to open. This icon comes out – a guy we had seen only in photos, there in the flesh. We screamed and shouted and waved our flags.
When the helicopter blades stopped, Fr Jackie Power conducted us and we sang The Boys of Wexford. JFK came over to us, got a copy of the song on a sheet of paper, and joined in singing it with us. Afterwards, he moved off in a big car and we all ran down the hill. It was something I will always remember.
Out of the 600 of us in the choir, 21 were picked to travel to America on the first anniversary of JFK’s death to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Fr Jackie picked me.
Getting to New Ross had already been a big event for us, but to go to Dublin and then to America on a plane was out of our world.
We stayed in the Sheraton hotel in New York and were to sing The Boys of Wexford on the show. There were so many famous people there, such as Tony Bennett and Victor Borge, and we were number two act with all these celebrities.
No matter where we went, cameras followed us. We went to see Ted and Bobby Kennedy and were given $1,000, which went towards building a new swimming pool in New Ross. Over the years, I kept up the Kennedy connection.
I went to Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral and met some amazing people such as Carl Lewis, Stevie Wonder and American vice-president Joe Biden. I have tried to get footage of us singing on the Ed Sullivan Show, but unfortunately it can’t be found.
A few weeks ago, 10 of us who went on that US trip met for the first time since. We’re hoping to gather more of us together for the anniversary. It was an experience that has stayed with us for life.
(In conversation with Brian O’Connell)