Half a century on, the Kennedy clan comes back to an Ireland it helped make proud
Members of the Kennedy family were on hand yesterday to launch the National Library’s JFK ‘Homecoming’ exhibition
Caroline Kennedy, only surviving daughter of former US President John F Kennedy, launching the JFK Homecoming multimedia exhibition at the National Library of Ireland yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson
President John F Kennedy promised to return to Ireland during his euphoric homecoming visit in 1963. Felled by an assassin’s bullet later that year, he never made it back.
But, for decades, his treasured presence remained in countless homes across the country. That photograph of JFK was part of so many Irish childhoods, hanging pride of place on the living room wall.
Today’s confident generation would struggle to comprehend the enormous depth of pride that people had in Kennedy, the first Irish-American president of the United States and a man who proclaimed his Irish heritage to the world.
They couldn’t begin to know the huge impact his four-day visit had on the national psyche at a time when an emerging republic was suffering from the effects of mass emigration.
It’s only 50 years ago – a mere blink of history’s eye – but the images from that heady homecoming look like scenes from another world now.
“His visit left an indelible mark on Ireland and still remains in the consciousness of those who were there to experience it,” said Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan yesterday, when he joined members of the Kennedy family to launch the National Library’s JFK Homecoming exhibition.
The event was part of a week-long programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of the president’s visit. It culminates in Wexford when the Taoiseach joins JFK’s daughter, Caroline, and members of the extended Kennedy clan for the opening of the Kennedy Homestead visitor centre in his ancestral village of Dunganstown.
At yesterday’s launch, Caroline Kennedy was presented with a special-edition Certificate of Irish Heritage.
“My father was a student of history and he would be very proud that he has become part of Ireland’s history, as well as America’s,” she said.
The framed certificate features an image of the Famine ship The Dunbrody, a vessel similar to the one Patrick Kennedy and his family sailed in when they left New Ross harbour for Boston in 1849.
Guests at the launch included former American ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, who was singled out for special praise from Mr Deenihan for the supportive role she played in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Also present was former Fianna Fáil TD Seán Connick, who is chairman of the JFK Trust in Wexford.
Caroline Kennedy was joined by her husband Edwin Schlossberg and children Rose, Tatiana and Jack. “I am so happy to be able to stand here with my family and all of you to honour my grandfather in the capital city of the island nation where his story, and all of our stories, began,” said Tatiana.