Dunganstown remembers Kennedy visit
Caroline Kennedy says she treasures her relationship with Ireland
The Walsh sisters, Ann (left) and Mary. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
The scene in Pat Greenan farmyard was like a village fete. Everyone who was anyone in Dunganstown was there. . . and a few more besides.
The sun was shining and the rain was holding off – miraculously given the black clouds that occasionally sailed by, threatening to dump misery on the scene below. The huge, gleaming white marquee was doing a brisk trade in tea, coffee, cupcakes and biscuits.
A piper, Private Finbar McCarthy of the 3rd Infantry, played The Minstrel Boy; bunting was flying and everyone was having a good old chinwag.
“’Tis done now,” said Seán Reynolds with a certain justified satisfaction as he sat looking at his work – the bright and beautiful interior of the Kennedy Homestead Visitor Centre in what used to be a field out back of Grennan’s farm. “Another day, another dollar,” he pronounced.
Exactly a week before, the place looked like one of Pat Grennan’s cows has run amok – there was dust and timber and tools all over the place, the flotsam of builders the world over.
But Seánand his team of carpenters, plasterers and electricians made the deadline, just as they said they would.
Inside the marquee, country men in suits were looking their best; wives were best dressed ladies to a woman.
Tom and Eileen Flynn were enjoying a cup of tea and the chat with old friends. They looked relaxed and happy, perched on the edge of a small stage, there inside just in case it rained and the VIPs had to retread for cover. Behind them was a collage of 50 year old images from the great occasion 50 years ago, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy came home.
In the central image, JFK is surrounded by women. Tom, a garda at the time of the visit but now retired, was not part of the celebrations all those years ago but has poignant memories nonetheless.
“That lady there,” he says pointing to Mary Ann Ryan, the young, beautiful and smiling woman at JFK’s right shoulder, “I drove her to the airport in Shannon. She went to the funeral.”
Tom remembers the urgency of those awful days in November 1963, the rifle shots that denied JFK his Spring return to New Ross after his trip to Ireland, the four happiest days of his life, as he told his family afterwards. Mary Ann didn’t have a passport but the government made sure she got one in time for departure and she got to Washington.
Mary Ann herself died a few years back and would no doubt have loved to have been in Dunganstown today. Many who sported badges proclaiming “the class of 63” were, however, just as they were in Grennan’s farm all those years ago. Among them three sisters, Mary, Ann and Brigid Walsh.
They stood in line at the entrance to the brand new Visitor Centre, eagerly awaiting the arrival of for Caroline and Sydney and Jack and Rose and Tatiana, those contemporary Kennedy superstars.
“I can’t believe its 50 years ago,” said Mary, “It’s such a great privilege to be standing here today 50 years later.”
She has 18 grandchildren and is bemused to observe how they now study the Kennedy legacy and visit of which she was a part all those years ago.
And she got her reward yesterday. Caroline stopped and chatted, displaying that seemingly endless generosity the Kennedys have for those who love and admire her family.
“We treasure our relationship with Ireland,” Caroline later told the crowd gathered for the official opening of the Centre.
And there was never any doubt but that Ireland treasures her and her family and, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and many others have pointed out over recent days, Ireland treasures and says thanks for all the Kennedys have done for her over many years.