Kennedy Smith recalls 'wonderful memories' of brother's 1963 visit

 

FORTY-FIVE years after she and her late brother stood a few steps from here and soaked up the rapture of an adoring crowd, Jean Kennedy Smith returned to the windy quayside at New Ross yesterday to recall a "remarkable trip" and a cherished memory.

Mrs Kennedy Smith, a former US ambassador to Ireland, was in the Co Wexford town for the unveiling of a sculpture of her late brother, who became the first sitting US president to visit Ireland, when he stopped off for a few days in the country his great-grandfather had left during the Famine.

Standing in front of a wall filled with representations of his life, the life-size bronze statue, by the artist Ann Meldon Hugh, stands purposefully overlooking the quay, its right arm outstretched.

"It brings back wonderful memories for me," Mrs Kennedy Smith told a crowd of hundreds under brilliant sunshine yesterday. "It was a time I have cherished ever since, and I know that my brother felt the same way."

"It was a remarkable trip in so many ways. It was the first time my brother had visited since his election.

"It was the first time a sitting American president had visited Ireland. And it was the first time I travelled with my brother to our ancestral home."

President Kennedy arrived in Ireland on a high. He had just come from West Germany, with his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech still ringing in the ears of a world in the grip of Cold War.

But yesterday his sister told the old Kennedy family story of how, when they returned to the US after the visit, the president made them sit through three consecutive nights of screenings of his tape of "my visit to Ireland".

"He enjoyed his trip to Ireland more than any other of his presidency. There was no doubt in any of our minds just how much of an impact that trip had on him."

On his inauguration day in January 1961, President Kennedy sent a recorded message to the people of New Ross pledging to visit the town from which his great-grandfather Patrick had emigrated.

Yesterday there was another recorded message resounding along the quay - this time from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who regretted that he couldn't attend in person but recalled warmly the president's talents and achievements, and that "great friend of Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith".

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was only four years old at the time of the Kennedy "homecoming", but he spoke of the fervour of those June days, and of the close ties that bound the Kennedy family with the place of their ancestors.

"For us in 1963, it was about kinship," he said. "He was, for our whole nation, a sort of a glamorous first cousin - bright, successful, generous, benign. He was the embodiment of our hope and our optimism for ourselves going forward at that moment. We took such pleasure in his achievements. We were so happy to bask in the warmth of his reflected glory."

After yesterday's unveiling, which was also attended by Leas Ceann Comhairle Brendan Howlin and the cathaoirleach of New Ross town council Ray Lawlor, Mrs Kennedy Smith did as she, her brother and their sister Eunice Shriver did 45 years ago and made the short journey to the Kennedy homestead at the village of Dunganstown for tea and biscuits.