Farewell from Ireland: How my father said goodbye to JFK
When President Kennedy left Ireland after his visit in June 1963, the people of Co Clare wanted to give him a memorable send-off
Farewell to Ireland: former Clare county manager Joe Boland with Patrick Hennessy’s painting of the president’s visit. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Homeward bound: President Kennedy boards Air Force One at Shannon Airport on June 29th, 1963
Whenever I have left the country from Shannon Airport I have said goodbye to my father twice. Once in person or by phone and once to his image in the painting that has hung in the departure lounge since 1965.
He’s not the only person in the painting, which is entitled Farewell to Ireland and was made by Patrick Hennessy. The others are President John F Kennedy; Taoiseach Seán Lemass; Minister for Education Patrick Hillery; Senator Seán Brady, chairman of Clare County Council; the Right Rev Henry Stanistreet, Church of Ireland bishop of Killaloe; and the Most Rev Joseph Rodgers, Catholic bishop of Killaloe.
From 1960 until his retirement, in 1983, my father was Clare county manager. He was three years into the job when the US State Department announced that Kennedy would be visiting Ireland that June, on a trip that would see him land in Dublin and return to Washington DC from Co Clare. “When it was announced that the president would be departing Ireland from Shannon, Clare County Council decided they would give him an official welcome to Clare,” my father, Joe Boland, says. “We proposed to hold a special meeting of the council at the airport for that purpose.”
My father drafted a speech for Brady to deliver to the president. “At that time the Department of Foreign Affairs was called the department of external affairs,” he says. “They requested a copy of the proposed draft speech, and word came back that it had to be reduced to three minutes.”
A platform was built for the apron at the airport, to accommodate President Kennedy, about 40 councillors, and other guests.
The US had given only a few weeks’ notice of the visit. There was some security at the airport, but my father doesn’t recall it being very strict – although, for security reasons, the councillors travelled to Shannon on a special bus. My father took his own car, and gave a lift to Brady, who did not drive.
The president, who arrived in Ireland on June 26th, 1963, was coming by helicopter from Limerick. “A small group of us met him as he alighted from the helicopter. He shook hands with us all. He was full of charisma and good humour. Then he went straight to his assigned spot on the podium, and the chairman took over with his speech.”
My father does not have a copy of the speech he drafted, although he thinks it’s possible the Clare Champion might have published it the following week.
He recalls that the council presented Kennedy with an antique silver claret jug that had been sourced by J Maurer & Sons, an Ennis jeweller that is still in business.
After the visit, a letter arrived from Kennedy’s office, thanking the council for the visit. “In my time that letter was hanging over the chairman’s seat in the council.” It is still in the council’s offices.
Five months after leaving Ireland, Kennedy was dead. “When we heard he had been assassinated, everyone was devastated. The whole country was in mourning.”
Clare County Council decided to commemorate his visit to Shannon. “We commissioned Patrick Hennessy to do a painting that was to hang in perpetuity at the terminal building in Shannon. The location was symbolic, because that’s where President Kennedy left Ireland from.
“We gave the artist whatever photographs we had, and he also looked through footage at the Radio Éireann archive, as it was then. We didn’t give him a specific brief other than that the president was to be the dominant figure, but I had told him I didn’t want to be in it.”
When the painting was finished the council sent a van to Dublin to collect it. When it arrived in Ennis my father discovered, to his embarrassment, that it did, in fact, include him. “Patrick Hennessy said he put me in at the side because that symbolised administration keeping an eye on the politicians.”
The council decided to present the painting to the State. It was unveiled at Shannon, with my father present, on June 29th, 1965, two years to the day after Kennedy flew out of Ireland. The ceremony was carried out by Frank Aiken, minister for external affairs.
Things change constantly at busy places like airports, as they are updated, modernised and extended. But after almost half a century, Farewell to Ireland remains hanging in the departure lounge, and long may I bid my own personal farewell to my father whenever I leave the country from there.