Cosgrave recalls ‘excitement’ over JFK’s Irish visit
Years earlier, the former taoiseach had tipped Kennedy for US president
He recalls the whirlwind nature of that visit. “For instance the two universities gave him an honorary degree and he got it at one session which was held in Dublin Castle.”
Cosgrave had a short conversation with Kennedy at a reception in Iveagh House. Kennedy came over to him and asked: “How can I get in touch with Fr Leonard?”
The president explained that his wife Jacqueline was anxious to get in touch with the priest, whom she knew, so Cosgrave provided details of how he might be located.
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Kennedy’s address to the Dáil was one of the highlights of the visit. “That was a very impressive occasion. I think it was nearly the first time anyone from outside spoke in the Dáil.”
Cosgrave’s father WT Cosgrave, who led the State during its first decade of independence, was also in Leinster House at the invitation of Lemass. “It was a good speech. It was very well put together, and he delivered it well and of course there was a very full attendance,” recalls Cosgrave.
Cosgrave’s most vivid recollection is of the excitement that gripped the country during the visit. “I remember driving up Dame Street and people were hanging out of windows to see him coming along as he was going up to the Castle.”
One of the things that impressed people was his youth compared to most visiting political figures and indeed many members of the Dáil. “He was young, you see, compared to what people were used to and that was a big attraction.”
Like the rest of the country, Cosgrave was shocked by Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, but sadly that was not the last tragedy to visit the Kennedy family.
Cosgrave remembers well the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. “I was having my breakfast listening to the radio and suddenly I heard a shot at this meeting that was being relayed and of course it was Robert Kennedy who was shot.”
At that stage Cosgrave was the leader of the opposition and taoiseach Jack Lynch invited him and Labour leader Brendan Corish to travel to the funeral. “We went to the funeral Mass in New York and then went up by train to Washington. I remember we were four or five hours in the graveyard in Arlington waiting for the cortege to arrive.”
As taoiseach from 1973 to 1977, and later in retirement, Cosgrave came into contact with the third of the Kennedy brothers, Ted, who became a long serving senator for Massachusetts and an important friend of Ireland on Capitol Hill.
“I heard Ted Kennedy on a few occasions and he was a wonderful speaker. He was very helpful to this country.”
The Kennedys were not the only prominent Irish-American family Cosgrave encountered in the course of his career. He remembers being on a trade mission to Chicago with Seán Lemass in the 1950s when they were brought along to a reception meet the recently elected Mayor Daley.
Cosgrave noticed an imposing grey haired man on the other side of the room and asked the woman from city hall looking after the Irish group if that was Mayor Daley. “She said, ‘No. That’s the mayor emeritus. He’s an educated and cultured man.’ Then she pointed out Mayor Daley on the other side of the room and said: ‘He went to college too, but culture never settled on him’. I always remembered that.”