Flame transfer celebrates ‘transformational’ John F Kennedy

Kennedy Torch will arrive in Dublin on Thursday on to Wexford by Naval ship for Saturday’s ceremony on the quay front in New Ross

The Kennedy Torch being  lit by Lt Col Brendan Delaney of the Irish Defence Forces  at the grave of John F Kennedy in Arlington cemetery, Washington  on Tuesday. Photograph: Bill Auth

The Kennedy Torch being lit by Lt Col Brendan Delaney of the Irish Defence Forces at the grave of John F Kennedy in Arlington cemetery, Washington on Tuesday. Photograph: Bill Auth

Tue, Jul 30, 2013, 17:38

Rain clouds loomed over Arlington national cemetery near Washington before yesterday morning’s ceremonial flame transfer at the graveside of former US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In the end, it held off as Corporal Anthony Kelly stood on the hillside and played the Mist-Covered Mountain on the pipes.

The short, dignified ceremony was sombre. Yes, this was a celebration of Kennedy’s June 1963 visit to Ireland and his ancestral homeland in New Ross, which has lost none of its lustre 50 years on. But the dates inscribed on his gravestone – 1917-1963 – meant the gathering was also a reflection on what had been lost.

Finding its voice
“In 1963 Ireland was still finding its voice internationally,” said Minister of State Paul Keogh, representing the Government. Other guests included Tim Shriver, the chief executive of the Special Olympics committee, representatives of Wexford County Council and the Irish Defence Forces.

“When president Kennedy came to visit he brought a message of hope and inspiration. He encouraged Ireland to be proud and confident of itself and its place in the world. He was the living proof that Irish people could do anything they set their minds to do.

“It is easy to forget how transformational a figure John Fitzgerald Kennedy was. Even here in the United States; the first Catholic president, the youngest president ever elected who along with his first lady Jacqueline brought glamour, excitement and a youthful vigour to the United States at the start of the 1960s. For Irish Americans the glass ceiling was truly smashed and the sky was the limit from then on.”

In a short ceremony, the Kennedy Torch was lit by Lt Col Brendan Delaney of the Irish Defence Forces. It will arrive in Dublin on Thursday, and will be taken to Wexford by Naval ship for Saturday’s ceremony on the quay front in New Ross. Guests at that event will include Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president, and Jean Kennedy Smith, his sister and a former US ambassador to Ireland. The new emigrant flame will be lit at eight o’clock that evening.

Joseph Kennedy III
Ms Kennedy Smith accompanied her brother on his visit to Ireland in 1963 and it was to that time his grand-nephew, Congressman Joseph Kennedy III alluded in his address.

The latest of the Kennedys to win public office spoke with eloquent familiarity about the impression the trip had made on the late president. “Above all else the story of president Kennedy’s trip to Ireland is the story of a young man. It is the story of a native son arriving on the doorstep of his humble town his great grandparents had left behind 100 years earlier. It is the story of a thousand welcomes and a million tears. It is an Irish story and an American story.

“President Kennedy liked to joke about squinting his eyes and seeing Galway from Boston but he never joked about the difficulties of passage, with all its perils and possibilities.”